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The Russian Orthodox Church as an infowar tool

On March 13th, Eastern Circles members presented research at the Paris Defence and Strategy Forum (#PDSF2024), organized by the Defence Academy of the École Militaire in Paris.

Daryna Patiuk explained how the Kremlin uses the Russian Orthodox Church as an infowar tool.

Key points are:

• Religion, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), is one of the tools employed in Russian warfare to shape the strategic environment according to Russia's preferences.

• Putin has consistently emphasized his ties to the Orthodox Church for political advantage. This strategy has reshaped Russian society, positioning Putin as a central figure in a newly defined Russian religious identity. This identity is characterized by conservative values, distinct from those of the West, and serves to strengthen domestic unity while asserting Russian leadership and influence over neighboring countries.

• The main missions of the ROC are to (1) Wrap political messages into religious foil; (2) Justify war narratives in the society; (3) Weaken pro-European and promote pro-Russian narrative.

• Similar tactics of "soft power" are employed by the Kremlin in Ukraine, where the ROC controls one of the three main churches, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However, its influence has waned significantly since the full-scale invasion, with attendance dropping from 15% to 4%.

• The Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church works to destabilize Ukraine from within by spreading pro-Russian ideology, engaging in espionage activities, and dividing society along religious lines.

• Ukraine has taken proactive steps to counter the influence of pro-Kremlin institutions like the ROC, including legislation requiring religious organizations affiliated with hostile countries to use their full names and conducting searches of churches and monasteries to uncover evidence of collaboration with Russia.

The challenge posed by the ROC goes beyond religious and cultural spheres, extending to the geopolitical realm. Western democracies must understand the ROC role and take decisive measures to counter its potential negative influence. Ukraine can share with Europe the methods and lessons of curbing ROC's influence.