The Situation in Ukraine at Year’s End
William Yoder, Ph.D. Smolensk, 31 December 2014
M o s c o w – The Italian Paolo Pezzi, Archbishop and head of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, stated in an interview on 26 December: «Ukraine now has an opportunity to prove that Christian love overcomes hatred and evil. Its present situation is similar to Lebanon during the first half of the 20th century. During that period, the various religions coexisted in an atmosphere of peace and good neighbourliness. Christians and Muslims viewed each other in a spirit of genuine love. Yet later, thanks to the activities of foreign states, everything was destroyed. We know what happened then and what the situation there now is. Ukraine is facing a similar challenge.»
1. Virtually all those who are making public statements are political
After the Union of Russian Baptists questioned the theological legitimacy of the coup on Maidan in its statement from 30 May 2014, the larger Baptist Union in Ukraine accused it of delving into politics. For ex. Valery Antoniuk, President of the Ukrainian Union, warned: «Politicisation of the church always leads to division and misunderstandings among the pastors.»
For its part, the Ukrainian Union explained repeatedly that in the course of the February coup it had done nothing more than place itself on the side of the Ukrainian people. Igor Bandura of Odessa, one of this union’s vice-presidents, stated: «The church remained on the side of the people even when some Russian Baptist representatives understood this as revolt.»
Elsewhere, Antoniuk compared the leading politician and Baptist Oleksandr Turchynov, now serving as Secretary of the Council for National Security and Defence, to Martin Luther King. In an interview on 21 December, Antoniuk assured that Turchynov’s political efforts were part of a godly plan. He assured: «I can say nothing negative about him as a Christian.» Turchynov’s predecessor as security boss was the radical rightist Andriy Parubiy. How is that to be interpreted? Did the Baptist bring about a change of course in military policy, or has he continued the policies of his predecessor?
In an interview with the US-magazine «Christianity Today» in November, Vitaly Vlasenko, the Russian Union’s Director for External Church Affairs, insisted: «Even when Crimea was part of Ukraine, it was in our minds always Russia. They are a Russian-speaking people.» Vlasenko is Director for External Church Relations for the Russian Union in Moscow. Very much in contrast to Mikhail Gorbachev, Antoniuk has described Crimea’s annexation as «deception», «cheating» and «violence».
We Protestants have not succeeded in being bi-partisan. In the already-mentioned interview by the German émigré Andreas Patz on 21.12., Atoniuk complained that Russian Baptists occasionally speak of «Novorossiya» (New Russia). Yet in the same interview, he referred to the war zones of Eastern Ukraine as «ATO» (Anti-Terrorist Operation). That’s strictly the vernacular of Kiev. Our bi-partisanship could make progress if we rejected partisan terminology.
Conclusion: Both support of and rejection of the Maidan coup are political. The same is true for Crimea. Both Unions have made political statements – it would make sense to act accordingly.
2. The democrats are few in number
In conversations with Ukrainian Protestants, I strike a great deal of emotion and little give-and-take. I am constantly informed about the misdeeds of Russia and the Soviet Union. Only a few appear to strive for fairness and a balanced view. The suffering on one’s doorstep churns people up and makes them incapable of hearing the other side. Yet first-hand experience with suffering does not explain the larger, global picture. Without viewing matters in context, we cannot get nearer the true picture.
The same problem surfaces in the government realm. Kiev’s parliament (or «Rada») is too passionate and violent to qualify as democratic. Communists and former members of the Party of Regions have had their lives threatened. Poroshenko conceded openly that a major reason for the early parliamentary elections on 26 October was the need to reduce the number of deputies sympathetic with the east of the country. Of course, a «controlled democracy» such as the Russian one is also not any.
In the interview with Archbishop Pezzi, he was asked whether criticism would be capable of splitting his church. He responded: «Criticism does not lead to division. Division happens when a person believes that he himself is without sin, that only he has access to the real truth.»
Conclusion: Democracy can only be a goal – not a final condition achieved by a society once-and-for-all. Democracy must be constantly re-learned and re-achieved.
3. «Warmongers» – More people than one might think
Perhaps not only West Ukrainian fascists and East Ukrainian slavophiles qualify as «warmongers». Do we have any reason to peer in the mirror? Does faith truly keep us from becoming warmongers? In Ukraine I often hear: «If Russia had not supported the separatists, then there would be no war in Ukraine.» Could one by the same token claim: «If there were no American tax payer, there would be no war in Ukraine?» I’m referring to the five billion dollars which according to US-Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland were pumped into Ukraine between 1990 and the end of 2013 as well as the covert arming of West Ukrainian forces since then. (A covert arming of Ukraine’s East has also occurred.)
Yet «warmonger» is a very drastic term. We should rather speak of «war promoters» or «war inhibiters», of persons striving either for a military or a negotiated solution.
On 9 December, Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko), head of the non-canonical «Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate», claimed: «Ukraine will be winning the war against Russia, for the truth and God reside on our side. . . . The struggle between good and evil always ends with the victory of the good. . . . This means that Ukraine will reign victorious over Russia. Nothing else is possible.»
Eight days later, security boss Turchynov assured that the war could only end with East Ukraine and Crimea being liberated from Russian control. To this end, Ukraine would be creating «one of Europe’s most powerful armies». Thomas Pickering attacked such plans as «a dream that leads only to war and worse». A return to the negotiating table in Minsk «is better for both sides». Pickering was US-Ambassador in Moscow from 1993 to 1996.
The «Christian Science Monitor» reported on 28 December that the Kiev-based «Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church» (UGCC) had since March «donated over $200,000 worth of equipment to Ukrainian forces». The items included «body armour, ammunition, helmets, sleeping bags, stretchers and medical supplies». Undoubtedly, the Orthodox from both the Kiev and Moscow Patriarchate have also been involved in outfitting warring factions.
The Vatican-allied UGCC has mostly been warring with Moscow since the end of the 16th century. It was co-responsible for the genocide committed against Poles in Western Ukraine in 1943-44. This church has now been a close and friendly ally of Ukraine’s Baptists for two decades. One wonders whether this topic has ever been broached between them.
Western politicians – for ex. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite in late November – have repeatedly assured that every state has the right to choose its security alliances completely independent of its size and geostrategic location. Yet this right has not been extended to the countries of Central America and the Caribbean. Small states must live with the fact that great powers demand that their security interests be respected. Those unwilling to accept such realities can endanger peace. An appeal by 60 leading German personalities on 5 December stated: «The Russians’ security interests are as legitimate and pronounced as those of the Germans, Poles, Balts and Ukrainians.»
Bestowing all guilt for complex geostrategic developments in Eastern Europe on a single person or nation is indeed questionable. The German Eugen Ruge, who was born in a Siberian gulag, wrote in «Spiegel», number 50/2014: «The personification of evil is problematic. . . . Comparing (Putin) with Hitler means spitting a people which suffered like no other during the fascist war in the face.»
On 5 May 2005, Vladimir Putin had reported on German television: «People in Russia say that those who do not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union have no heart. And those who do regret its demise have no brain.» Someone struggling to resuscitate the Soviet Union would speak in another fashion.
On which side are you? We could withdraw into a quiet corner and ask ourselves: «Do I believe deep down inside that Russians are untrustworthy and culturally inferior?» Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in 1881: «It is impossible (for Western Europeans) to accept us as one of their own. Never and not for any conceivable price will they ever believe that we are capable of cooperating jointly and equally with them in the advancement of civilisation.»
The verdict is still out as to whether the churches can contribute significantly to the cause of Ukrainian peace. Best suited is probably the «Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate». This Moscow-led church is by far the largest confession in the country, and that is especially true in Eastern Ukraine. It is repeatedly forced to accept Ukrainian viewpoints also. Protestants are also present in Eastern Ukraine, but they are small and reveal strong pro-Kiev preferences.
Conclusion: Peacemakers advocate negotiated settlements.
4. Measuring states with the same measuring stick
Our political stance on the matter of Ukraine is determined essentially by our position on whether the two sides should be measured with the same measuring stick. A Baptist from Russia, Mikhail Cherenkov (Irpen near Kiev), would deny that vehemently. He wrote as long ago as last May: «One side is the victim, the other is the aggressor. Without clear recognition of this asymmetry, without clear admission of church (Baptist) co-responsibility for the aggression of their government against its neighbour, it will be impossible to begin a conversation with one another.» Baptists loyal to Kiev accuse the Russian Union of Baptists for being subservient to its government. One claim maintains that Ukrainian Baptists stand on the side of the people, the Russians though on the side of the state. Holiday letters sent by the Russian Union to government officials are offered as proof. Yet perhaps such letters are no longer required in Ukraine, for that country’s Protestants are now part of the ruling order. Protestant politicians are active and Protestants offer public prayer in the national Duma. Here’s another example of «asymmetry»: Russian Protestants are still far removed from opening up an office in the Kremlin. In both countries, the opinions of the Baptist Unions are similar to the national consensus.
Political partisanship is permissible for church bodies when there is a clear moral and ethical gap between two states. Yet if governments are to be measured with the same stick, then churches must guard against the state exerting influence on their turf. When that occurs, the churches in all countries are in danger of becoming co-responsible for the sins of their governments.
It is legitimate to speak of Russian guilt. In the case of Crimea, it did not break the chain of infractions against international law (see Vietnam – Laos – Grenada – Palestine – Kosovo – Iraq – Libya – Syria), but rather lengthened it. One can attempt to qualify that by pointing to the fact that the majority of Crimeans prefer to belong to Russia, or that the Russian military presence in Crimea is as old as the USA.
In the Budapest Memorandum of December 1994, Russia promised to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Only after that did NATO begin its official expansion eastward beyond the borders of Germany. Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and NATO’s expansion eastward are both violations of agreements.
A war is on and there have been crimes committed on both sides. Well-known is the murder of four young Pentecostals by separatists in Slavyansk on 9 June. There have also been other cases of murder or torture. The harrowing death by torture of 36-year-old Aleksandr Agovonov by West Ukrainian forces on 14 November was documented by Graham Phillips on the Internet. The «New York Times» reported on 20 October that West Ukrainian forces had been deploying internationally outlawed cluster bombs. The fruits of hatred and war are everywhere the same.
Which state is more reprehensible – Russia or Ukraine? Conclusion: Often, people of faith do not need to – and cannot – make global judgements. In regular, «normal» cases, we lack the measuring stick needed to quantify virtue or evil. Ukraine’s believers are therefore called to be loyal and law-abiding citizens striving for the common good. The same must be true for the Christians of Russia. There are exceptions, but a case like Nazi-Germany has not cropped up in post-Soviet Europe.
5. Persons wanting to understand Russia are not alone
In the press release mentioned, Patriarch Filaret assures that Russia’s (one-sided) guilt is evident «to the entire world». Yet that is not even true in the political West. Have a look in the Internet at the following names: Tony Brenton (British ambassador in Moscow 2004-2008), Pat Buchanon, Robert Fico (Slovak prime minister), Heinz Fischer (Austrian president), Irakli Garibashvili (Georgian prime minister), Mikhail Gorbachev, Roman Herzog, Henry Kissinger, Jack Matlock (US ambassador in Moscow 1987-1991), Ron Paul, Helmut Schmidt, Antje Vollmer, Milos Zeman (Hungarian prime minister). The list could be extended indefinitely. Note also the growing rift between Hungary and the USA.
Although it is for now presently almost strictly in the Internet, the German service of «Russia Today» already has nearly 58.000 subscribers (or «friends»). The much older English-language «Kyiv Post» can point to 21.100 subscribers. «Russia Today» is the most popular news service on YouTube; according to «Wikipedia», it was called up more than 1,4 billion times during the first 11 months of 2014. The Russian-language blog of the Moscow-based military strategist and ideologue Igor Strelkov (or Girkin) has 317.600 subscribers. This popularity may indeed be due in part to a drop in the quality of Western media. Western governments are reluctant to wage war with bullets; words and money (sanctions) are another means. They can serve as an element of low-intensity warfare.
Nevertheless, Polish and Baltic units are said to be on the frontlines north of Mariupol. That Poles and Russians will again be – or already are – shooting at each other causes me nightmares. The churches should be doing more; 1939 may never happen again.
Conclusion: No side is isolated yet – it’s time to return to the negotiating table.
Am I sounding like a broken record? In the new year, we should report on Russia’s ideological vacuum and the threat of various «fascisms» and «national bolshevisms» here and in Ukraine.