Staunton, December 27 – The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, virtually “the last acceptable mediator between Moscow and Kyiv,” played a key role in organizing the exchange of prisoners between the Russian-controlled Donbass and the Ukrainian government, an action that benefited the church at home and its branch in Ukraine as well.
According to Pavel Skrylnikov of Nezavisimaya gazeta, with the Kremlin’s backing, “the role of the Russian Orthodox Church as a peacemaker in the region is becoming ever more prominent, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is if you will the main beneficiary of this process” (ng.ru/faith/2017-12-26/2_7144_rpc.html).
Vladimir Legoyda, head of the Moscow church’s department for relations with society and the media, says that the church has “constantly” sought ways to overcome tensions in the Donbass and that while decisions about prisoner exchanges were taken by the respective “special services,” the church as an institution in Moscow and in Kyiv played a major role.
Aleksey Makarkin, head of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, notes that “the church is an exclusively ‘public’ participant in the peace process: it does not initiative peacekeeping missions and does not define their format. Nevertheless, it remains one of the few organizations capable of maintaining a dialogue between the two sides.
That is especially important now that Moscow has withdrawn its participants from the Joint Center for the Control and Coordination of the Cease Fire Regime, and it is certain that the political authorities in the Russian capital are using the church to promote their goals in Ukraine, which includes boosting the status of the Moscow church there, he continues.
Patriarch Kirill will certainly take credit for his role, but the most important beneficiary is likely to be the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate whose congregations the Kremlin clearly hopes to use to promote Russian influence in Ukraine far beyond the Donbass alone.