Russian world as substitute for USSR. Op-Ed by Victor Pelin

“The tsarist empire aspired to conquer the spaces close to the warm seas. The Soviet empire aspired to the World Revolution and the creation of the Global Soviet Republic (Zemsharnaya Sovietskaya Respublica). Currently, the regime of Putin, after the dissolution of the Soviet empire, tries to return to the expansionist policies of the USSR by the methods of the tsarist regime. Consequently, we have a war and the polarization of the whole world owing to the revanchist pretentions of a regime that is nostalgic for the imperial grandeur...
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Ethnocentrist neocolonialism in action...  

In 2022, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was preceded by an unprecedented offensive in the spiritual sphere, including on the African continent. In January 2022, the Synod of the Church of Alexandria adopted a statement, accusing the Patriarch of Moscow of creating the African Exarchate, using blackmailing and methods from the arsenal of the promoters of neocolonialism in order to disseminate the “malefic virus of ethnocentrism”. Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria, in the Encyclical to the clergy of the Patriarchate from Africa warned about the “wolves” and liars who came closer to the clergy of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. This was the normal reaction to the meeting of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of December 29, 2021 in which it was decided to create the Patriarchal Exarchate of Africa and to welcome 102 clerics from eight African countries under the omophorion of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia.

According to Patriarch Theodore II, the Russian Church, wanting to increase its power and authority in the Orthodox world, using the secular power and, sometimes, violence, started to attack and to “subdue” the neighboring Orthodox churches, as it did with the Metropolitanate of Kyiv in Ukraine, which always belonged to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In this connection, the Patriarchate of Alexandria called on the Orthodox priests of Africa to close their eyes and ears to the promises and dirty bribe of the emissaries that they didn’t even know until recently, treating them as the 30 pieces of silver of Judas. This is an interesting remark by Patriarch Theodore II, especially if we look at it through the angle of the successes achieved by the Russian Orthodox Church in the African states, which host detachments of the Wagner Private Military Company (Wagner group), which has become involved in the war in Ukraine since the very beginning, from May 2014.   

As we can see, Russia’s hybrid war is global and complex. What we have nearby, in Ukraine, is only a dimension of this war, which has a number of components, such as: espionage, repression of civilian freedoms, physical destruction of opponents, propaganda, spiritual aggression in the canonic territories that do not belong to it, etc. Why does it happen so? Because Russia does not have borders, while President Vladimir Putin has a set of powerful ideas that he wants to implement to take revenge on the countries of the so-called golden billion that he accuses of neocolonialism and racism. Evidently, it goes to the manifestation of revanchism for the loss of territories, without war, after the dismemberment of the USSR. Respectively, we witness an attempt to restore the influence of the former Soviet empire, but not through Communist ideas, but based on hybrid methods.   

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s involvement in fight against expansion...

Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria’s warning from the start of this year about the Russian expansion in Africa resonated and found a powerful echo in the stance of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. On December 10, 2022, in the 15th edition of the World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi, the Ecumenical Patriarch (primus inter pares of the world Orthodoxy) gave a speech in which he tried to respond to a series of pressing questions, regarded through the angle of Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine: did the West make a mistake when it profited from the implosion of the USSR for establishing its influence in the East? Should Russia fear possible encircling? What should be done with the independence wish of the nations that lived under Soviet oppression? How is rehabilitation possible if not by acts of solidarity with the people of Eastern Europe, who were abandoned in front of Moscow’s domination, in spheres of influence established by the Yalta agreements? 

Even if the formulated questions require immediate responses, the Ecumenical Patriarch insisted that the Orthodox Church’s view is beyond the current perspectives as this is deep rooted in history, especially the church history. From this viewpoint, the current sorrows are consequences of the errors of judgment about matters related to faith, which should be recognized, especially because the identification with the term “orthodoxy” means identification with a just faith. After a thorough introduction into history, the Ecumenical Patriarch justified the legitimate wish of Ukraine and its Orthodox Church to separate themselves from the Russian space and to connect themselves to Europe and its values.

The Ecumenical Patriarch argued that “from Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch brought Christianity and Byzantine civilization to the nations of this region in the 9th century already. We played a fundamental role in organizing the religious communities that formed around the Metropolitanate of Kyiv and then around the Patriarchate of Moscow”. But the imperial power wanted to subjugate the church to its wish, exploiting the religious feeling for its political and military purposes. Respectively, the empire aspired to replace the Ecumenical Patriarchate by proclaiming Moscow “the third Rome”. This long-lasting policy of Moscow is a fundamental factor in the division of the Orthodox world. The effects of this policy were highlighted as follows:

  • from the 19th century, Moscow has followed the innovations of German nationalism. Inspired by Pan-Germanism, it worked out a Pan-Slavism ideology and the Russian foreign policy acquired therefore a religious component, insisting that the churches should organize themselves according to the principle of ethnicity whose central benchmark is the language. This approach was denounced by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1872 as heresy (ethnophile heresy, a form of ecclesiastic racism);
  • ethnophile heresy was useful to Moscow in achieving its objectives as it separated the faithful speakers of Slavic languages from the influence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, attracting them into the service of Russia’s ambitions to control the warm seas. This policy is responsible for the hatred between the Christians from the Balkans, which led to the Balkan wars and atrocities of the beginning of the 20th century;
  • after the implosion of the URSS and the fall of the Communist regime, the faith was used again for ideological purposes. The end of Communist left vast emptiness in the whole part of the world that lived under its domination. In such circumstances, the Russian Orthodox Church, under the direction of Patriarch Kirill, joined the regime of President Vladimir Putin, taking an active part in the promotion of the Russian World ideology according to which the language and religion make it possible to define a whole body that would include Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the other territories of the former USSR and the diaspora. The promotion of the idea that the Ukrainians are part of the Russian nation derives from here;
  • Moscow claims to be a center of this world whose mission is to combat the values of the West, which it considers decadent. This ideology constitutes an instrument for legitimizing the Russian expansionism based on the so-called Eurasian strategy. The connection between the ethnophile past and the current Russian world should become the backbone of the ideology of the regime of Putin.

In the aforementioned circumstances, the Russian invasion of Ukraine of February 24, 2022 polarized the whole world, while Patriarch Kirill’s position on the war, the support for the policies of President Putin, deepened the division of the Orthodox world. Respectively, some of the churches support the Ecumenical Patriarchate, while others, from countries that are too dependent on Russia from economic viewpoint, blindly support the Patriarchate of Moscow. The churches that prefer to keep silent, with silence being considered a sign of complicity, weren’t overlooked either. The Ecumenical Patriarch remembered also the Russian expansion in Africa, where the Russian Church, using the means of the state, infiltrates into the canonic territory of other Churches, despite the most elementary rules of ecclesiastic organization of Orthodoxy.  Russia’s interference in Africa is presented as punitive actions against the Patriarchate of Alexandria so as to recognize the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Surely, the Ecumenical Patriarch also praised the Russian orthodoxy, which made an enormous intellectual, spiritual and artistic contribution. From this viewpoint, he treats the Russian orthodoxy as a victim of the interference of the neo-imperial power of the regime of Putin, which resorted to the exploitation of the religious feelings of the people of Russia.

Conclusions

The expansionist ambitions of Russia do not have any limits. They also affect the spiritual area, including on continents that have nothing to do with the Russian civilization and culture. The tsarist empire aspired to conquer the spaces close to the warm seas. The Soviet empire aspired to the World Revolution and the creation of the Global Soviet Republic (Zemsharnaya Sovietskaya Respublica). Currently, the regime of Putin, after the dissolution of the Soviet empire, tries to return to the expansionist policies of the USSR by the methods of the tsarist regime. Consequently, we have a war and the polarization of the whole world owing to the revanchist pretentions of a regime that is nostalgic for the imperial grandeur.

While they struggle at all levels, including in the spiritual sphere, globally, in the Republic of Moldova we have small local incidents caused by the supporters of the Russian world, who refuse to admit that the difficulties experienced by the citizens are primarily due to the neo-imperial expansionism of Russia. In such circumstances, the spiritual struggles didn’t have at least an echo in the Republic of Moldova. Our Orthodox church is among the churches that were described by the Ecumenical Patriarch as dependent on Moscow, which keep silent and are, therefore, accomplices to what is going on in Ukraine.

The political parties that by words promote the Orthodox tradition, but claim to be Communist and Socialist, keep silent too as they do not have the courage to condemn the aggression that already caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees, with the people suffering from cold and famine and experiencing shortages. For them, it was enough to plead for the insertion into the constitution of the special role of the Orthodox Church and that’s all. When they had to show their devotion to the Christian values, they fell silent.

For the sake of truth, we should note that the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) has yet an excuse. Ahead of the centenary of the USSR, the PCRM didn’t have time to focus on spiritual issues. In this regard, the PCRM undertook to anticipate the celebration of the centenary of the USSR in a narrow circle, without the participation of representatives of the brotherly Communist parties of the Union of the former USSR (UPC-PCUS). We will yet see if the PCRM will take part in the car racing devoted to the centenary of the USSR that was announced by their Communist mates from the Russian Federation.

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