War in Ukraine: why “the speech of Patriarch Kirill radicalized over months”

While he called for peace a year ago, at the very beginning of the war in Ukraine, the patriarch of Moscow changed his tone, tinking his speech with a holy war rhetoric against “the West depraved “. The political scientist Kathy Rousselet analyzes the positioning and profile of the chief of the Russian Church.

Interview by Marc Semo

Kathy Rousselet, research director at Science Po-Paris, is a specialist in religious questions in post-Soviet Russia. Author of the Holy Russia against the West (Salvator, 172 p., € 18.50), she analyzes in an interview with the world the position of the Patriarch Kirill vis-à-vis the Kremlin, especially since the start of the war in Ukraine, and the ever more anti-Western discourse of the Russian Church.

Have you been surprised by the holy war accents of Kirill about Russian intervention in Ukraine or the struggle Against “the depraved West”?

In reality, Kirill’s first reaction to Ukraine’s invasion by Russia was not this one. Let us recall that on February 24, 2022, the Patriarch, certainly without denouncing the war, recalled the common history of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, hoped that “this fraternity” would help them to “overcome the divisions” and guest “Le Plerôme [the ‘ Complete] of the Russian Orthodox Church to emphasize ardent prayers for the fastest recovery of peace. “

But a few days later, the tone changed. The archives may explain to us precisely one day why. On March 6, to justify the unjustifiable, he took over the arguments that were most familiar to him. It was not a question for him of “distorting” Ukraine, as Vladimir Putin said or another hierarch close to him and the FSB, the metropolitan Tikhon Chevkounov. Its objective was to fight against globalization and liberal values.

This rhetoric of Kirill, very close to that of ultra-conservative religious movements elsewhere in the world, is old. The reference to homosexuality, for example, speaks in particular to the Russian population: it is with it that the opposition to the depraved West was built, especially from the beginning of the 2010s. His speech is inflamed . He talks about “metaphysical fight”.

Kirill has long insisted on the messianic duty of Russia. The people of the Rous [who understand in their representations the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples] would have a mission which he should report at the end of time. In 2009, he spoke of a “carrier of God” people, an idea that dates back at least to the 19th century and to Dostoyevski. On November 6, in line with these ideas, he presented Russia as “the pillar and the support of the truth” (in reference to the first epistle of Paul in Timothée, 3:15)

Finally, the Patriarch’s speech has taken on a patriotic dimension to Soviet accents, strongly militarized. Kirill recalled how much the sacrificial feat was part of the Russian cultural code. In his sermon of September 25, 2022, he went so far as to say that “the Russian soldiers who died in the war in Ukraine will be washed from all their sins”. His speech has radicalized over the months.

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/Media reports cited above.