Andrew Bennett, Canada’s religious freedom ambassador, begins a one-week fact-finding mission to Ukraine today, convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin is orchestrating the persecution of Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Muslim Tatars.
Russian forces have kidnapped priests, detained nuns, fire-bombed churches and intimidated worshippers, he says.
The Russian forces are targeting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, which Bennett sees as part of a plan by Putin to prop up the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“It’s definitely part of a calculated plan,” Bennett said in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press. “This is a narrative building upon Russian nationalism that is rooted in Orthodoxy. In Putin’s Russia, we’re seeing again the using of these older constructs within Russian political society and Russian history to advance Russian aims.”
Bennett said he’s hearing reports that Russians want all religious communities in Crimea to re-register as religious communities, as they do in Russia. While that would target Muslim Tartars in Crimea, Bennett said it could be used against Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox groups, particularly the Kyivan Patriarchate in eastern Ukraine.
“This has been used in the past as an administrative form of persecution.”
The Moscow Patriarchate views its Kyivan counterpart as a breakaway sect, said Bennett.
“As it has happened through a lot of its history, the Russian Orthodox Church is allowing itself to be co-opted and is being co-opted by the state, the Russians, to advance Russia’s interests.”