Paul Goble: Another Turn to the Soviet Past: the Moscow Patriarchate Increasingly Shifting from Affairs at Home to Affairs Abroad

Staunton, February 12 – When Stalin restored the Moscow Patriarchate during World War II, he did so primarily for foreign policy reasons, to impress the West with his supposed respect for the religious feelings of the Soviet population. And for the remainder of the Soviet period, the Moscow Patriarchate was far more active abroad than at home. Sometimes this took the form of high-profile participation in ecumenical meetings at which the official church could promote whatever was the Kremlin’s current line; and sometimes it involved the use of church institutions abroad in Jerusalem and Western Europe in particular as covers for Soviet espionage and diversionary activity. At the end of the Soviet period and especially in the early 1990s, the Patriarchate shifted its focus away from foreign affairs to domestic ones, seeking to expand its influence and network within the country and attract to its parishes

many who had either fallen away from religion altogether or who had joined unrecognized and underground groups. Now, Valery Yemelyanov, the director of the Vremya i mir information portal, tells Aleksandr Soldatov of the site that “the political activity of the ROC MP has shifted from domestic policy to foreign affairs” once again ( On the one hand, this reflects the Church’s failure at home win support among young people, the religious affairs observer says. The Pussy Riot case showed that the Patriarchate could not hope to become what the Kremlin wanted – the chief articulator of a new national ideology. And on the other, it is the product of changes in the church itself under Patriarch Kirill. The current patriarch had been the longtime head of the church’s foreign policy arm before assuming the top job and sees activity abroad as more natural and more profitable than spreading the faith at home. In particular, he has sought to win points in the Kremlin by being openly Islamophobic. Some hope that Kirill will now focus more on domestic affairs given his debacle in Ukraine. But Yemelyanov says that is unlikely. Instead, the patriarch will try to win back his position in the Kremlin by becoming even more active politically abroad, largely limiting himself to opposing “sects” like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their missionary work at home. Exactly what form that will take is uncertain: The Moscow church does not have the influence to structure events but will only be able to take advantage of new possibilities others may present. But among the most likely forms will be an expansion in ecumenical contacts with Roman Catholics in general and Catholic conservatives in particular. At the same time, the ROC MP seems on course to resume or at least expand what was never completely absent its role as a cover for Russian intelligence and political activists abroad. That role which attracted a great deal of attention during the Cold War is now so obvious that it is getting more coverage now. The most recent case involves the way in which the ROC MP operates as “a Trojan horse” agency in the Czech Republic promoting the Kremlin’s position in Czech politics and engaging in espionage and subversion. This has been documented in a new article by Czech journalist Stanislav Mateyev. The original appeared in Prague’s Denik N on February 9 ( It has now been translated into Russian What is disturbing about this article is that it shows that the ROC MP abroad is operating now exactly as it operated in Soviet times, with only two differences. On the one hand, it is targeting countries it didn’t have to earlier. And on the other, it may be even more effective because people in the West do not suspect what it is doing. source: window on eurasia

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