Zelensky Delayed Banning of Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Order to Secure U.S. Aid

Zelensky Delayed Banning of Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Order to Secure U.S. Aid

For six months Republicans had held Zelensky back from banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, Kyiv’s religious repression may continue once the latest tranche of war funds have been allocated.

21st Century Wire

Ukraine is now preparing to take the final step in actually banning the largest canonical Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). The radical legislation was passed in the first reading back in October 2023, but so far the Verkhovna Rada has been postponing its adoption, an atypical move for a parliament fully obedient and under the control of Zelensky. According to sources familiar with the situation in Ukraine, the delay in banning the UOC due to one reason: Zelensky’s reluctance to take this audacious step prior to receiving the latest multi-billion dollar funding package from Washington. A shrewd maneuver as he was worried that some Congressmen from the Republican Party might block their generous allocation because of their principled position regarding religious freedoms.

After Congress allocated $60.8 billion dollars to Ukraine, it was quite obvious that the current Ukrainian government’s plans for the UOC will be realized soon. In recent months, Ukrainian media have cited numerous examples of Zelensky’s careful preparations to not only ban the UOC, but also to expropriate its property and assets – including the forced seizure of church land, and the state’s use of repression against anyone who dares to defend the church.

One such example played out on the nights of May 16 and 17, when one of the UOC churches, the Tithe Monastery of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was physically demolished in Kyiv.

“The temple, which was consecrated by His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr and His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphrius, no longer exists…”, one clergyman painfully commented.

In addition, new criminal proceedings were filed against monks of the Kyiv Pechersk and Pochaev Lavra, followed by searches and arrests that were conducted among employees of the Union of Orthodox Journalists – for the crime of publishing truthful information about state repression against the UOC.

It turns out that municipal authorities of Kyiv, the Kyiv City Council, decided to terminate lease agreements and expropriate the land plots on which the facilities of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra were built. Together with the SBU (Ukrainian Security Service), a plan was developed to seize the temple complexes of two Kyiv monasteries, St. Sergius of Radonezh Monastery and Holy Trinity Ioninsky Monastery (media reportage indicates that after a closed-door meeting, seizures were postponed until the allocation of US financial aid).

Finally, the SBU, in conjunction with the Office of the President of Ukraine, developed a plan to discredit the UOC in the Ukrainian media.

The government’s persecution of Ukraine’s most popular denomination is taking place against a background of a near complete media blackout on these events in the country. Not surprisingly, this has led to a total absence of criticism from the United States and the European Union. In the US, through the efforts of some concerned Congressmen and journalists, this issue only barely remains an item of concern, while in Europe where there still seems to be a commitment to democratic norms, the absence of such criticism can only be explained by the extreme shortsightedness, and a slavish adherence to ‘the Ukrainian cause’. Even the Vatican in its annual Religious Freedom Report gives a negative outlook on the issue of religious freedoms in Ukraine, but goes out of its way to gives only the driest possible list of events over the last three years, and avoids the use of such words as “pursuit”, “persecution” or “repression”.

A few lone statements have been made by some European politicians, like Marcel de Graaf, a Dutch MEP from Forum for Democracy, and Joachim Koos, an MEP from Alternative for Germany, but none of these have prompted any serious public opposition or debate within the EU.

A similar situation exists in Great Britain, where the General Synod of the Anglican Church in its report condemned the Ukrainian bill which is set to ban the UOC, but the country’s political leadership has ignored their own Church’s official opposition to Kyiv’s authoritarian measures.

Amid this atmosphere of lawlessness, an international lawyer specializing in human rights, Robert Amsterdam, head of a well-known firm with offices in Washington and London, arrived in Ukraine on a 10-day fact-finding visit. He was shocked by what he discovered, and shared his findings during an interview with popular American TV presenter Tucker Carlson.

Amsterdam (pictured above) prepared a Monitoring Report on the violation of the rights of believers in Ukraine, and has since submitted it to US Congressmen for consideration.

“The document will be in the public domain. It is quite voluminous, in it we call on the US government to recognize Ukraine as a country of particular concern for encroachment on religious freedom,” said Amsterdam. “Even a US State Department commission has taken notice of this. Have you heard anywhere a statement from the United States ambassador to Ukraine about the situation with the Orthodox Church? About priests and bishops thrown in jail on false charges? About property taken away, about criminal cases?”

Tucker Carlson himself expressed his outrage of the Ukrainian government’s repression of the UOC, sharing with his millions of viewers, “It’s shameful. I stated this directly to House Speaker Mike Johnson, who says he is a Christian: ‘How can you pay for the persecution of Christians with American taxpayer dollars?”‘

Carlson added, “Why can’t Christian leaders, Christian legislators in the United States come forward and say that this is simply wrong, that we will not send money to build tyranny, as they have done, and persecute Christians? Is it really that difficult?”

Due to the political bias in Washington in favor of its newly installed government in Kyiv, it’s not surprising how the American media have only now begun to turn their attention to the tyranny being waged by the Zelensky government against the church in Ukraine. The pressure on the UOC by the Kyiv authorities has been going on for at least the last 10 years since the Maidan coup d’etat in 2014 in Ukraine.

Individual facts of oppression of clergy and believers of the UOC were recorded earlier, but the full-scale attack on canonical Orthodoxy began in 2018 and especially intensified in the last two years. It was initiated by the leadership of Ukraine (the President, government, National Security and Defense Council) and is currently being implemented both at the legislative level and at the applied level – by the forces of special services and local authorities. Moreover, in 2019, in opposition to the canonical UOC, a new “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (PCU) was created, which in the same year Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople granted autocephalous status – in violation of the norms of canon law.

On December 1, 2022, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine adopted a decision aimed at total restriction of the rights of the UOC communities. In particular, the UOC was deprived of the right to use the temples of the most ancient and largest monastery at Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, and the vicar of the Lavra, Metropolitan Pavel (pictured above), was put on trial on spurious charges. “Sanctions” were then imposed on UOC bishops and dozens of them were stripped of their Ukrainian citizenship – effectively criminalizing the country largest and most long-standing religious institution.

The decision was approved by President Zelensky’s Decree of December 1, 2022, and his two other decrees dated December 11 and 20, 2022, approved a list of sanctions against 14 bishops of the UOC. “Sanctions” meant a ban on any economic activity of an individual and his actual deprivation of property on the territory of Ukraine.

These are but a few of a litany of incidents which have taken place. The evidence is overwhelming. Most recently, on April 24, 2024, the Security Service of Ukraine detained the rector of the Sviatogorsk Lavra and conducted invasive searches in the monastery itself. The security service claims that Metropolitan Arseniy allegedly conducted “subversive activities” right during the liturgy. The rector of the Lavra may face up to eight years in prison.

These actions of the Ukrainian authorities were even condemned in the United Nations. The official representative of the UN secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, said at his briefing, “We firmly believe in freedom of religion” in response to prompting from a journalist.

Earlier, on December 19, 2023, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk (pictured below) criticized the above-mentioned draft law on banning the UOC. The UN emphasized that Kyiv’s legislative initiatives to persecute the canonical UOC contradict freedom of religion and international law. In addition, Türk said that “these restrictions on the right to freedom of religion are not in line with international human rights law”.

Today, it can be sadly stated that the UN is actually one of the few organizations in the world that advocates for the UOC. The reason for this silence of the mainstream media and other international organizations was revealed by Robert Amsterdam. He claims that the Ukrainian authorities have spent $3.5 million dollars on lobbying in Washington to convince Americans that “none of what they are doing to the UOC is actually happening.”

Amsterdam accused the U.S. of directing at least part of the attacks on the church, which is perceived as a threat because of its “spiritual connection to Russia.”

“Many men are in the trenches on the front lines and learn day after day how masked secret police burst in and take away their religious home. Imagine how they feel knowing that their parents, their families are losing their place of prayer,” he said.

“The attack on the UOC has caused great outrage among Ukrainians. This is a story that deserves to be heard. However, the Western press has been weakened by fears of being accused of supporting Russia if it presents an accurate picture of Ukraine. But if we do not take our work as journalists and lawyers seriously, we are in grave danger of condemning Ukraine to a perpetual cycle of democratic failure. It is time for the press to do its duty and write about Ukraine without fear or bias. Those of us who support Ukraine must become critical friends,” said Amsterdam.

And it appears that the statements of Amsterdam, Carlson, and others who care are beginning to be heard by at least some politicians in the Republican Party. “When American leaders are presenting this as a war on democracy and human rights, it would be nice if the aid recipient was a little more careful about human rights, including religious freedoms,” said Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, among others. “Ukraine is doing some pretty bad things,” he adds in a commentary for The Wall Street Journal, citing news reports of investigations of priests, confiscation of church assets and arrests of priests.

Stephen Moore, a former Capitol Hill staffer and current president of the Ukraine Freedom Project, visited about 100 Republican Party congressional offices between September 2023 and January 2024. About a third “say they are concerned that Zelensky is persecuting Ukrainian Christians,” he says.

And on May 15, the largest of all international organizations dealing with religious freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – finally spoke up to acknowledge the clear religious persecution taking place at the hands of the Zelensky government. Due to the lack of alternatives in terms of completeness and thorough documentation of the situation in Ukraine, the reports from this commission are relied upon by most NGOs around the world. The Commission even sent an official letter to Ukraine expressing concern over the possible adoption of a law banning the UOC. It called the bill one that poses a threat to “freedom of religion or belief” and urged the Ukrainian authorities to refer it to the Venice Commission for consideration. The commission considered the issue after a formal request from Robert Amsterdam on the matter. Commenting on its decision, Amsterdam said that the initiators of the bill, if passed, might fall under US sanctions.

Thus, it is no wonder why Zelensky held off on banning the UOC until he received a multi-billion dollar aid package from the U.S. Congress. The money was allocated, and the Ukrainian government’s cunning seemed to go unnoticed. Except that thanks to Speaker Johnson, the bill included the following paragraph: “Within 45 days of the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committees, Congress, and the Senate a U.S. Strategy to Assist Ukraine in Combating Russian Aggression. It must describe how each specific aspect of such assistance, including defense assets and foreign assistance (read ‘our money’), should, at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels, help ensure that Ukraine ends this war as a democratic, independent, and sovereign country…..”

In other words, Ukraine’s retreat from democratic principles, and the banning of the UOC will be the purest example of such a retreat, which could threaten Ukraine not just with the termination of billions in U.S. funding, but with a reversal of all U.S. policy toward Ukraine, as well as personal responsibility to the representatives of the Ukrainian government headed by Zelensky – once a popular and democratically elected leader, and now a man rapidly losing legitimacy and turning into a full-pledged authoritarian dictator.

“As I said, we are preparing documents for review in the coming days. We are hoping that the State Department will wake up. I have certainly met with them. I’ve made sure that they fully believe the story,” Robert Amsterdam told Tucker Carlson at the conclusion of his interview.



(TLB) published this article from 21WIRE



Header featured image (edited) credit: A clergyman/church/org. 21WIRE post

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