Religion, the ‘Russian World,’ and the War Against Ukraine

April 26, 2024

RFI Senior Fellow for Europe Todd Huizinga authored an article recently for the The European Conservative on the concept of “Russkiy Mir” and how it helps explain why “Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, so often seem to echo each other in their statements on Russia’s war against Ukraine…” It also provides a deeper understanding of “Russia’s motives in attacking Ukraine.”

Huizinga writes:

In Russia, political, military, and religious considerations have become inextricably intertwined. Christianity has been nationalized and, in effect, mobilized to support Russian hegemony not only over Ukraine but over all of Russia’s imagined rightful sphere of influence. It is strikingly apparent that the moral and civilizational force of Christianity forms a much more powerful basis for Russia’s actions, and a more compelling justification of Russia’s brutality in prosecuting the war than a merely secular justification ever could be.

The religiously ignorant West’s failure to understand this—and to pay sufficient attention to the real religious fervor that fuels Russia’s determination to win at all costs—is a great hindrance to the West’s ability to counter Russian aggression with the necessary will, resolve, and vigor.

How can we better understand this religious fervor? The essence of the heretical Christian justification of Russia’s war on Ukraine, though enigmatic and mysterious, is best encapsulated in the concept of the Russkiy Mir, the “Russian World.”

“Russkiy Mir,” Huizinga explains, “is a heretical national theology that expresses a mythical, teleological understanding of Russia not as a mere nation among other nations, but as the standard-bearer of a great Orthodox Christian civilization.” Russkiy Mir, then, can be understood as providing the foundation for a “mystical unity of all Russian speakers in their history, their language, and their faith” and its implications are many, including the rejection of religious freedom. Later in the piece, Huizinga observes:

Not surprisingly, religious freedom, which is reliably respected by Ukraine, is systematically violated in the areas of Ukraine that are under Russian control. It is an inevitable component of Russia’s war policy to target, damage, and destroy churches and other religious sites, and to harass, arrest, and sometimes kill priests, pastors, and other believers. Ukrainians in the occupied areas are to embrace the religious ethos of Russkiy Mir or pay dearly for their refusal to submit.

Religious Ukrainians understand the power of Russkiy Mir. They are speaking out against its perversion of the Christian faith. In January, the leaders of the major Christian confessions in Ukraine (with the exception of the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church) published a statement strongly condemning Russkiy Mir as ‘the ideological basis of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Russian war crimes, and the genocide of the Ukrainian people.’ They asserted eloquently that Russkiy Mir does not “correspond to the foundations of the Orthodox faith and Christianity … violate[s] Christian principles and … [represents] a challenge to the preaching of the Gospel … [that] destroys the credibility of the Christian testimony.”

Read the full article: “Religion, the ‘Russian World,’ and the War Against Ukraine.”