The Use of Religious Arguments for the Justification of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Kristina Stoeckl is Professor of Sociology of Religion at the University of Innsbruck (Austria). Her forthcoming book, co-authored with Dmitry Uzlaner, is titled The Moralist International. Russia in the Global Culture Wars (Fordham University Press 2022).

The Russian war against Ukraine has put a religion at the center of public perception and journalistic reporting that has so far remained largely under the radar of broad public attention: Orthodox Christianity and, more specifically, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox churches in Ukraine. Nearly every news outlet these days has shown at some point symbolic images of the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill and Vladimir Putin in a gilded church setting. And indeed, this war and the justifications given by the Russian president and the head of the church for the military aggression have made clear how closely the Orthodox Church and the state are linked in Russia. On the other hand, the critical reactions of the Orthodox churches in Ukraine and the Orthodox churches worldwide have also demonstrated that Orthodoxy is not always guided by a “symphonic” closeness of church and autocratic state but that there are also Orthodox voices that speak for democracy, peace, and liberal values.

In this blog post, I focus on the Russian church-state side of this story. For the critical reactions of global Orthodoxy to the Moscow Patriarchate, I refer the reader to the blog Public Orthodoxy of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University and, in particular, to the recent post “A Declaration on the ‘Russian World’ (Russkii Mir) Teaching.”


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Reactions of Russian Religious Minorities on the Aggression Against Ukraine

Stanislav Panin holds a PhD in Philosophy from Moscow State University and is a Doctoral Student in the Department of Religion at Rice University.

For years Russian authorities worked to establish control over the public sphere and to suppress independent political parties, media, and non-profits. This control and suppression extend to religious associations; in the past decade, Russian authorities put great effort in prohibiting independent religious movements that were reluctant to profess their unconditional allegiance, had extensive international connections, or were otherwise perceived as a potential threat.

The current events in Ukraine, called “the Russian aggression against Ukraine” by the United Nations and a “special military operation” in Russian official jargon, provided a justification to tighten the restrictions. On 4 March, Russian authorities introduced new laws that made illegal “discrediting the actions of the Russian military,” “calls against the use of the Russian Federation military,” and “calls for political and economic sanctions against Russia.”


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Religion, the Russian-Ukrainian War, and Social Media

Elizaveta Gaufman is Assistant Professor of Russian Discourse and Politics at the University of Groningen, Netherlands.

When I first discussed this post with Talk About editor Dmytro Vovk we lived in a different world. We chatted, exchanged screenshots, and I wondered whether my findings would even be interesting to the public. After all, pro-Kremlin social media users were not keen on invoking shared religion in conflict resolution and seemed to have drawn a line between Russians and Ukrainians. At the time of writing, the editor of this post is sheltering from air raids in Kharkiv with his family, and I am sending him daily messages hoping they are ok. What Putin’s regime is doing to Ukrainians is a crime. If those making decisions in the Kremlin actually did care about the common culture and religion that they claim to share with Ukrainians, they could at least remember “thou shalt not kill.”


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