Before we begin to discuss any decisions or action, we all need to make an effort to understand what is going on. The war in Ukraine must be adequately understood, both as regards the reasons behind it and for the scale of its threat.
Seeking causes for the war within Ukraine itself is a waste of time. Yes, there are regional differences, and language and cultural gaps. However that is what sets Ukraine apart from its neighbor to the Northeast—peaceful diversity. Differences within Ukraine were a reason for tension, but not for war—never. I grew up in the Donbass region so I speak from experience.
The war came from the outside. It was a conniving and well-thought-out plan of the neighboring “fraternal nation,” or, more specifically, its leader. Through its intervention Russia demonstrated the seriousness of its imperial ambitions in the post-Soviet sphere and its readiness to pay any price for a conflict with the international community.
For too long the West believed that the Soviet threat had been dealt with once and for all. In reality after the dissolution of the USSR, the former Soviet republics did not constitute a whole and were weakened economically. Russia suffered no less than the others, with one difference—petroleum reserves and the remaining nuclear weapons meant it had to be reckoned with. Manipulation of gas prices and the insolence of the Russian military helped create a regional balance of powers without going beyond the rules of the game determined by the winners of the Cold War.
No one thought that the proclaimed “End of History” would actually have a continuation, that a new power would arise, able to mobilize the aggressive potential of Russia and turn it into an “emerging empire.” This new power is the idea of an Orthodox Russian world.
After the fall of the USSR there was a process of de-ideolgization; however, nature abhors a vacuum. There arose a strong need for new ideological binding agent. And the new turned out to be the familiar—“Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality” (the old Tsarist motto) came in handy. From here come modern Orthodox messianism, the cult of the Gatherer of Russian Lands, and the great limitless “Russian world” itself.
It was Orthodoxy that served as the main fermenting agent in the formation of a new Russian identity from the very beginning of Putin’s presidency. If, in Soviet times, the mark of the majority was political atheism, then now it is political Orthodoxy.
This religious aspect makes the conflict in Ukraine unresolvable by political or economic means. If the war against Ukraine is a Holy War for Holy Rus’, then no sanctions or diplomatic agreements will end it.
At the same time I don’t think that nuclear blackmail from Russia or the threat of full-scale war are a danger to Ukraine and all of Eastern Europe. It is not likely that Putin will press the red button or test NATO’s strength. But there are other, no less fearsome weapons available in Russia’s arsenal, and some buttons have already been pressed. There is a full-scale information war in progress, and 143 million residents of Russia and hundreds of millions worldwide are being mobilized into an army under the banner of anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western messages.
Putin is using the easily accessible resource of hatred, and this weapon is no less frightening than nuclear armaments. At the same time, hatred, masquerading under a banner of holiness, is multiplied many times over and receives much-needed justification and blessing.
The goal of this “Holy War” is not seizure of territory or change of power or defeat of opponents, but the victory of faith over all lack of faith and false teaching. This “Holy War” seeks to establish the only correct picture of the world over all wrong ones, of “truth” over all “untruths”. If Rus’ is Holy, then her faith and truth are the only orthodox ones.
Then it is clear why all diplomatic talks until now have been unsuccessful, and why the Minsk Agreement is not even worth the paper it is written on.
The brazenness and cruelty of Russia’s actions in Ukraine have exposed a frightening truth to all. It had actually been revealed earlier in the documents of the social teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church: the Orthodox Russian world is not held together by any universal values, rather it functions in accordance with its own principles. There is no common ground for dialogue about peace with anyone outside it.
I have no suggestions for finding points of agreement in a situation of unremitting war and explosive hatred and returning the conversation to a rational course. I do not know how to calm this “orthodox hatred” and finally appeal to, if not international law, then at least to common sense.
If someone refuses to acknowledge general principles, there is little point in referring to these principles as general. But that does not mean that we should stop holding to them. If someone argues with the universal human values of freedom, empathy, and peace, then that does not make these values less meaningful to us. In the face of the anti-humanitarian ideology, government terrorism, and religiously-motivated aggression of the “Russian world,” Christian society has only one solution—to unite together in defense of these most universal of values, demonstrating though our actions our solidarity and commitment to freedom and peace.
I hope that fear of war will not deprive us of common sense. At the same time I hope that we will not have to sacrifice our common values and principles, rooted in Christian soil, for the sake of some temporary gain. This means that there is no need to sacrifice Ukraine for the sake of peace and prosperity in Europe. It means that people of peaceful faith, good will, and common sense should unite. The best response to war is our unity.
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