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Putin victory is branded a farce by Ukrainian religious leaders

22 March 2024


The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, walks towards his election agents at the Kremlin in Moscow on Wednesday, after his predicted victory in the polls

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, walks towards his election agents at the Kremlin in Moscow on Wednesday, after his predicted victory in the pol...

PATRIARCH Kirill of Moscow has welcomed President Putin’s victory in Russian presidential elections, although the vote was condemned as a farce by Churches and religious communities in Ukraine.

“Seeing the impressive results of your tireless work over many years for the Fatherland, the people of our country have once again expressed confidence in you and overwhelmingly supported your candidacy,” Patriarch Kirill told President Putin on Monday.

“Constructive relations have developed over recent years between government bodies and the Russian Orthodox Church, aimed at establishing traditional moral values in society, at spiritual enlightenment and the patriotic education of youth, and at preserving our rich historical and cultural heritage. With your support, I hope our cooperation will continue to develop and bear good fruits.”

The Patriarch dispatched the message as Russia’s electoral commission confirmed that President Putin had won a record 87.28 per cent of votes, and 95 per cent in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, far outstripping three other Kremlin-approved candidates to gain a fifth term until 2030.

He said that the President, already in power for 24 years, had made “fateful decisions” for preserving Russia’s “true sovereignty”, justifying public hopes for a “strengthening of Russian state power” and “a peaceful and prosperous life”.

The election results were branded a farce by Churches in neighbouring Ukraine, however. They said that Putin had “self-appointed himself the winner”, despite being indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in March 2023.

They said that Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other “people of living faith” had fallen victim to his regime, and that “shameful footage” had shown “happy residents” voting in Ukraine’s occupied territories after their relatives had been killed and their homes had been destroyed.

“We call on our brothers and sisters around the world to appeal to their governments to condemn unconditionally and not be neutral towards this regime, which seeks to trample on world peace and poses a threat to all humanity,” the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, grouping Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders, as well as Jews and Muslims, said in a declaration on Monday

“These pseudo-elections are not just worthless and illegitimate, but criminal — on them lie the blood of innocent people, the sin of murder, the deceit of lies, the mark of a thief.”

Western governments condemned electoral violations and the suppression of opposition in the three-day ballot, although President Putin was congratulated by Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as by China, North Korea, India, and several Latin American states.

In a victory speech, President Putin said that the result proved that all Russians, “regardless of religious and ethnic affiliation”, felt “like a Russian family”, and vowed that the country’s “grandiose goals” would be achieved.

The voting was marred by Ukrainian drone attacks and reported incursions by pro-Ukrainian armed groups in the Kursk and Belgorod regions, as well as by arson and sabotage at some polling stations, where Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of the dead opposition leader Alexei Navalny, called on supporters to spoil their votes.

In a social-media post after the election, the Primate of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), urged his countrymen to stand firm against Moscow’s invasion, and to use Lent to struggle “against evil and aggression, fear and panic, disappointment and powerlessness, hopelessness and despair”.

He continued: “The current fast isn’t merely about prohibitions or formal restrictions, but primarily about endurance, patience, strength, and spiritual renewal. We must use this period to define clear landmarks for liberation from falsehood and deceit, to muster our inner forces, find hope, and affirm faith, while also ending empty disputes, unfair condemnations, divisions, and disagreements in our struggle with the enemy.”

On Tuesday, the Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw “Radek” Sikorski, renewed demands for European Union sanctions on Patriarch Kirill for “abusing religion to incite hatred”, although the call was dismissed as “useless intimidation” by the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Patriarch is already wanted in Ukraine and sanctioned by several Western countries, including Britain, but was spared EU-wide measures in June 2022, at Hungary’s intervention (News, 10 June 2022).

At the end of last week, Kirill signed an agreement on mutual help and support between his clergy and forces from Russia’s National Guard fighting in Ukraine, and asked Serbia’s visiting Patriarch Porfirije to help him to rebuild ties with Orthodox hierarchies abroad.

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