15.11.2014

Down with Arms!

A Commentary on the Present Crisis in Ukraine

M o s c o w – The Protestant sisters and brothers in the large Ukraine claim that Russian soldiers are standing on their territory, and that it is time to defend the fatherland against Russia. Yet Ukrainians in the eastern region of Donbass assure that they are doing the very same: defending the fatherland. At a congress of “Novomedia” in Kiev on 8 November, journalist Jan Novoseltsev of Kiev’s „Canal 17” claimed that 90% of the fallen soldiers on both sides were Ukrainian citizens. So it would appear that Ukrainians are defending the fatherland against other Ukrainians. That would fit the definition of a civil war. A victory by Kiev would lead to people in Eastern Ukraine be driven from their long-time fatherland.

Christians in the larger Ukraine are guilty of a mistake when they maintain that only the Ukrainian language is capable of uniting the country (On 11 July 2012 we reported on the interconfessional statement made eight days previous.) Ukraine’s Baptist union still supports that position. Yet precisely this attempt has contributed greatly to the country’s division. Imagine a group of Swiss concluding that Switzerland could only be united under the banner of the French language. That would likely split the country. And Ukraine has probably been multi-lingual as long as Switzerland has.

I could once again construct a long list of the inconsistencies inherent in official Ukrainian policy; I could try and punch more holes in their Swiss cheese. But we lack the time for that. The threat of a much bigger war is real – we have every reason to hurry.

The hate among young Protestants, the poisoning of impressionable minds, really hurts. (This of course can also occur in Russia.) At the primarily-Charismatic conference mentioned above, a young participant was met with applause when he compared the annexation of Crimea with the German occupation of Kiev from 1941 to 1943. Generally, Ukrainians serving in the Donbass armies are disqualified as “terrorists”. The other way around, Kiev’s Ukrainians are finished off as “fascists”. Those are fightin’ words encouraging warfare. Let’s wipe them out of our vocabulary! They have no place among peace-loving Christians.

Baptist Parlamentary President Oleksandr Turchinov is calling for a resumption of hostilities in the East. On 6 November he wrote: “You can't negotiate with occupied territories. They can only be liberated.” But did not the mass destruction of West Ukrainian forces in the region of Ilovaisk at the end of August make very clear that Eastern Ukrainians and their cohorts could not be driven back beyond the borders of Russia? One conclusion from Ilovaisk: Russian interests will not be overcome in this conflict by military means. Would NATO be willing to risk a big, European war for the sake of a 50 km-wide swath of turf? This conflict has no military solution.

The option which remains is a return to the negotiation table in Minsk. A vital question would be: “What will it take from Kiev to get the Eastern Ukrainians to lay down their weapons for good?” If no negotiated agreement is possible, then one should divide the country. During the democratically-legitimised run-off elections of 7 February 2010, the now-deposed Viktor Yanukovich received 49% of the vote. So let’s give the Eastern Ukrainians 15% of the territory – a part of the region which they have always inhabited. (Crimea is a different case – it will very likely belong to Russia for a long time.) Of course, not all Eastern Ukrainians – Protestants least of all – desire the creation of a separate state. But a majority there does desire that – note the results of the not unproblematic referendum on 2 November 2014. 

The – also Protestant – Western Ukrainians insist on breaking with their ancient, East Slavonic roots and joining the West. One must of course concede them that if this is truly their desire. Yet that can qualify as democratic only if one also respects the decision of the Ukrainian East. Pro-Kiev Ukrainians believe the dissenters amount to little more than a molehill kept alive by Russia. But the stream of refugees heading towards Russia (significantly larger than the group moving towards Ukraine) and the election results of 2010 indicate otherwise. 

A splitting of the country would not lead to Ukraine’s demise. In 1993, the Czechs presented 38% of “their” territory to Slovakia. The two peoples have remained friends until the present and their territory is open to all. Even the English and Scots were willing to live with their island’s division. One should of course add that Czechoslovakia was not giving away property: The Slovaks had an equal right to possess a part of that territory. The same would be true for the eastern Ukrainians.

Do you see any other way to peace? Diplomats to the negotiating table; down with arms! Christians can do their part to help this come about.

At a Kiev dinner, a journalist working for Kiev’s army newspaper expressed the conviction that the „Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchy“ was comparable to no other in Donbass, that it was present everywhere on both sides of all fronts. He conceded that the small Protestant communities were also present on both sides, yet the Moscow Patriarchy is by far the largest denomination in all of Ukraine. This army journalist is himself a member of the Moscow Patriarchy’s church.

 Other news
A photo from Red Square on the Day of National Unity (4 November) shows Vladimir Putin in the company of the country’s primary religious leaders: Orthodox, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists. The only Protestant is located on the extreme right: the Pentecostal/Charismatic Sergey Ryakhovsky, the politically-active Senior Bishop of ROSKhVE, the country’s largest Protestant union. An official release from „Itar-Tass“ includes Ryakhovsky among the “leading traditional Russian confessions”. On Red Square, a leading adversary of nationalistic forces, the least traditional of all Christian denominations, was officially removed from the sectarian fringe and brought into the hallowed halls of the country’s respectable confessions.

Ukraine’s Charismatics have no tolerance for such expressions of loyalty to the Russian president. Yet this breakthrough is hardly less significant than the first-time granting of access to a Protestant delegation hoping to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall on 8 May 2006.

One phenomenon is evident in both Ukraine and Russia: In a time of need, religious denominations tend to close ranks. “Russia Today” very recently reported positively on a Mormon born in Eastern Ukraine who is fighting for the separatists. A negative side effect of ranks closing is the increasing gap between them and the faithful in the competing state.  

On 7 November, Metropolitan Ilarion, the Moscow Patriarchy’s „foreign minister“, held a lecture at the “Russian-American Forum of Christian Leaders” in Charlotte/North Carolina. The event was sponsored by the „Billy Graham Evangelistic Association“. Ilarion’s stay included a birthday visit with Billy Graham, who turned 96 years old that day. The delegation from Russia included Ryakhovsky and other Pentecostals as well as Alexey Smirnov and Vitaly Vlasenko from the country’s Baptist union. Sergey Vdovin from the “Russian Evangelical Alliance” also participated. A major interest of the Moscow Patriarchy involves the establishment of an interconfessional, conservative coalition to the right of the Geneva-based ecumenical movement. Ilarion’s speech there can be understood in this light.

William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 15 November 2014
A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited.
Release #14-13, 1.199 words.