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Putin and Kirill stress unity after Wagner mutiny

29 June 2023


President Vladimir Putin arrives to deliver a speech to the Russian military, in the Kremlin, on Tuesday

President Vladimir Putin arrives to deliver a speech to the Russian military, in the Kremlin, on Tuesday

PRESIDENT PUTIN has told the Russian public that the defeat of last weekend’s military mutiny depended on their aid. “A firm, unambiguous position in support of the constitutional order was taken by public organisations, religious denominations, leading political parties — in fact, the entire Russian society,” the President said on Tuesday.

“Organisers of the rebellion betrayed their country and people and those drawn into the crime. . . It was precisely this fratricidal outcome that Russia’s enemies wanted: the neo-Nazis in Kyiv, their Western patrons and all sorts of national traitors.”

The speech was carried on state TV as speculation continued over the fate of Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group mercenaries, after their weekend occupation of Rostov-on-Don and short-lived march on Moscow.

A senior Russian Orthodox Church leader, Metropolitan Kirill (Pokrovsky) of Stavropol, joined others in repledging support for Putin, and warned that “sins of treason and betrayal” would not be forgiven.

“Thank God this situation, incredibly dangerous for our country, has ended,” Metropolitan Kirill, who is head of the Synodal Department for Co-operation with the Armed Forces, told the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti.

“We’ve seen how our whole people are united as we all participate in the special military operation with such difficulty, while at the same time not accepting civil confrontation. Together with our heroes at the front, we must win, and continue to build our great country.”

ALAMYYevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, in Rostov-on-Don

Russian media reported that criminal investigations had been dropped against Prigozhin and the 25,000-strong Wagner Group, whose troops were instructed to pull back after coming within 150 miles of Moscow, and offered enlistment in the regular armed forces, or relocation to Belarus.

In a message on Saturday, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow had said that Russians were called on to “preserve national unity, pray to God, and support the soldiers” at a time of “military confrontation”, and that he supported Putin’s efforts “to prevent unrest”, continuing: “Any attempt to sow discord in our country is the greatest crime, with no justification.”

Another senior Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Pskov and Porkhov, wrote: “We should always stay in unity with those whom God’s Providence has sent to rule Russia”, on his website on Sunday. “Today President Vladimir Putin bears this burden, cross and responsibility.”

The exchanges continued as the President of the RC Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for the second stage of a peace mission on behalf of Pope Francis.

A Vatican statement did not specify whom the Cardinal would meet, but said that his “principal aim” was to encourage “gestures of humanity” which could “contribute to promoting a solution to the current tragic situation and find paths toward a just peace”.

Cardinal Zuppi denied seeking to “mediate” during a previous visit to Ukraine in early June, which brought signs of disagreement with the government of President Zelensky.

In a Sunday interview with the Glavkom news agency, the Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said that he understood that the Pope did not “represent moral neutrality”, and wished to be a “herald of good news to the Ukrainian people”.

He said, however, that many Ukrainians felt that the Pope did not “fully understand their pain”, and was affected, as an Argentinian, by “mistrust towards the West”, as well as by Russian influence over “certain circles associated with the Holy See”.

“The Pope has made clear, however, who the aggressor is and who is the victim,” Archbishop Shevchuk said.

DECRThe Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk presents an icon, a gift from Patriarch Kirill, to mark the WCC’s 75th anniversary, to the WCC secretary-general, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay (left), on Wednesday of last week during the meeting of the Central Committee

A report on Tuesday by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, criticised the Kyiv government for measures “targeting” Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, including clergy arrests and searches of places of worship, but said that it had “refrained from taking actions that risked violence” in response to “UN advocacy”.

Also on Tuesday, the World Council of Churches (WCC) said that its Central Committee continued “to monitor with great concern the dangerous, destructive and deadly consequences of Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine”.

It said that the WCC expressed “the international ecumenical fellowship’s grief and dismay at the escalating toll of lives lost and communities destroyed”, and had urged its general secretary, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, “to exercise all possible efforts through the churches to bring this conflict and its appalling consequences to an end”.

The Moscow Patriarchate said that a Russian Orthodox delegation, headed by Metropolitan Antony (Sevryuk), the Church’s foreign-relations director, had attended the Central Committee meeting, although no Russian representatives were shown close-up in dozens of WCC photos of the week-long event.

Read more on this story in this week’s Leader Comment here

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