ARCHIVES Danyliw Seminar 2016
King’s College (UK)
Victoria Hudson is a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow (2016-2019) in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, UK. She was awarded her PhD by the University of Birmingham (Centre for Russian and East European Studies), where she defended a thesis entitled “The Civilisational Aspects of Russian Soft Power in Contemporary Ukraine.”
Holy Grail or Poison Chalice?
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate
as an Instrument of Russian Soft Power in Ukraine?
Focussing on the period before and after Ukraine’s Euromaidan, this paper explores the extent to which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate should be considered a tool of Russian “soft power” in Ukraine — the cultural facet of a broader strategy to attract Ukraine and Ukrainians to participate in closer cooperation with Moscow, or at least preserve Kyiv’s position as a neutral borderland with the West.
It draws upon statistical data about the position of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine relative to the country’s other churches, an analysis of the media of the time and expert interviews to put forward the argument that while there are in principle grounds for considering the church as a potent source of pro-Russian influence, in practice this potential is significantly constrained, not only by recent political developments in Ukraine, but also due to factors from within the Ukrainian church itself. Indeed, as a Russian analyst observed, the Moscow Patriarchate can be seen as diverse as Ukrainian society itself, not least since two thirds of its parishes are located in the western and central regions of Ukraine that are more sceptical of Russia’s soft power narratives.
The past two decades have seen significant “competition for souls” in Ukraine, with the number of registered religious communities doubling from 17,610 in 1997 to 34,183 in 2016. Growth in the number of communities attached to the Moscow Patriarchate and, especially, the Kyiv Patriarchate has been particularly striking. Although the Moscow Patriarchate has remained superior in terms of the numbers of parishes, the number of parishioners has reportedly not kept pace with church construction. On the one hand, the UOC(MP) has significant potential tools of ideational and cultural influence at its disposal in Ukraine. On the other, the church finds itself internally divided, with some clerics more oriented towards Moscow, while others have a more patriotic Ukrainian outlook. Examining these factors, and drawing on interviews within local experts, the paper examines the effectiveness of the UOC(MP) as an opinion former in Ukraine.
Given the significant impact of Ukraine’s churches in the “Revolution of Dignity,” the paper also explores the narrative of the Russian church, and how its Ukrainian sister church positioned itself relatively over the course of the six months starting from the run-up to President Yanukovych’s decision not to initial the agreement with the EU in November 2013. It is hypothesised that the capacity of the UOC(MP) to act as a pro-Russian opinion in Ukrainain society is constrained by the need to present itself as an authentically Ukrainian church, at a time of heightened emotion when voices in support of a autocephalous national church around the rival Kyiv Patriarchate are growing. While some clerics of the Moscow Patriarchate did provide spiritual support for those in Eastern Ukraine articulating a pro-Russian position, including separatist elements, this may have come at the cost of alienating Ukrainian society more widely, reducing the power of voices advocating for Ukrainian participation in the “Russian World” and deepening divides within the Moscow Patriarchate itself.