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Putin accuses Ukraine of interference in faith over Schism in Orthodox Church; warns Russia could act to protect religious freedom

Moscow – Russia will not interfere with the internal matters of Ukraine’s Church. However, we reserve the right to do everything to protect freedom of worship and human rights, Russian President Vladimir Putin sternly warned the Ukrainian government. Recently, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced its separation to establish a church independent from Moscow. Russia alleges the Ukrainian government to be behind the instigation leading to the establishment of the new church.

‘The Russian government believes that any meddling in church affairs is off-limits. We’ve respected and will respect the independence of church life, especially in a neighbouring sovereign country (Ukraine). Nevertheless, we reserve the right to do everything to defend religious freedom, religious belief as also human rights,” Putin warned.

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Last month, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s decision to separate from the Russian Orthodox Church and also the support it received from the Church of Constantinople has been a point of contention between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian politicians asserted that given the history of Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Ukrainian citizens were at last free from the Russian influence. Albeit, backing the Orthodox Church, Putin urged maintaining religious affairs separate from politics.

‘The new church had nothing to do with faith but was meant to serve the interests of a few politicians solely,’ criticised Putin and said, ‘It would only sow hatred and intolerance’. In the past century, atheists had expelled the faithful from the places of worship and attacked them while the clergy was criminalised and prosecuted. The mindset of those who initiated the formation of the independent church resembles such atheists of the past as they have carried out blatant interference into the church life,’ Russian President Putin thus lashed out at the Ukrainian regime.

The presidential elections are due in Ukraine in the month of March. Moreover, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has begun aggressive campaigning with a vitriolic slogan which says, ‘Either Poroshenko or Putin’. Local analysts and Ukrainian opposition have criticised Poroshenko stating that he was trying to conceal his failures by referring to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and portraying a threat of an invasion from Russia.

A few months ago, Russia had seized Ukrainian naval ships and detained the crew members, an incident that is proving important in Poroshenko’s poll campaign. Even though the United States and NATO have backed President Poroshenko, they have urged not to meddle in the religious affairs. The Russian President’s warning to Ukraine, therefore, assumes much significance.

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