Russian President Vladimir Putin has given several explanations for his country’s war on Ukraine, and some are more plausible than others. They include halting NATO’s advance towards Russia’s borders, protecting fellow Russians from “genocide” or baseless claims of “denazification” of Ukraine.
The high-ranking priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, meanwhile, offered a very different reason for the invasion: gay pride parades.
Patriarch Kirill said last week that the conflict is an extension of a fundamental culture clash between the wider Russian world and Western liberal values, exemplified by expressions of gay pride.
Still, experts say Kirill’s comments offer important insight into Putin’s broader spiritual vision of a return to a Russian empire, in which the Orthodox religion plays a central role.
However, the tough stance of the Russian patriarch is also costing him supporters. The Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam announced on Sunday that it was cutting ties with the leader, just the latest in a number of priests and churches abandoning Moscow because of the war in Ukraine.
“Putin put forward this concept of the so-called Russian world and this concept is grounded in Russian Orthodoxy,” Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history at Wesleyan University, told CNN.
“The Russian world is wherever there are Russian speakers, the Russian world is wherever there is a Russian church – it does not recognize existing political boundaries,” Smolkin said.
Putin’s vision is supported by Kirill, who also views Ukraine as an integral and historic part of his Russian church, Georg Michels, a history professor at the University of California Riverside, told CNN.
“At the start of the war, Patriarch Kirill gave a sermon in which he emphasized the God-given unity of Ukraine and Russia,” Michels said in an interview with UC Riverside News.
“Kirill exposed the ‘forces of evil’ in Ukraine who seek to destroy this unity,” Michels explained.
Last Sunday, Kirill went further during a sermon in Moscow when he specifically linked these “forces of evil” to gay pride events.
According to the patriarch, the war in Ukraine is about “a fundamental rejection of the so-called values that are proposed today by those who claim world power”, i.e. the West.
The “test” of which side you are on, Kirill said, is whether your country is ready to hold gay pride parades.
“To get into the club of these countries, you have to organize a gay pride parade. Not to make a political statement, ‘we are with you’, not to sign agreements, but to organize a gay pride parade”, did he declare. said in the March 6 sermon.
“If we find violations of [God’s] law, we will never accept those who destroy that law, blurring the line between holiness and sin, let alone those who promote sin as an example or as one of the models of human behavior,” Kirill said. this subject today, there is a real war,” he added.
Kirill’s speech denounced the infiltration of Western liberal values into the hearts and minds of what he said were historically unified and orthodox Ukrainian and Russian peoples.
“He says there’s a clash of civilizations and the gay pride parades in this narrative are a litmus test of which side you’re on,” Smolkin said.
Despite calls for Kirill to denounce Putin’s war, the “Russian Pope” not only refused to do so, but instead lent moral legitimacy to the invasion by calling it a struggle of “metaphysical significance”, of mankind choosing to follow the laws of God.
“The Russian Orthodox Church provides much of the symbolism and ideology that Putin used to cement his popularity,” Michels added.