During the very week that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced “Religious Freedom Designations” against a slew of countries for violations of religious freedom, including Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has proposed banning the Russian Orthodox Church operating inside Ukraine.
Zelensky said his government will draft a law “making it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation to operate in Ukraine,” according to the New York Times.
He wants the government to investigate the Moscow-aligned Orthodox church, which raises a host of questions including whether that would violate religious liberty protections in the Ukrainian Constitution.
“We will ensure full independence for our state. In particular, spiritual independence. We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul,” Zelensky said.
In the past, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church answered to the Russian patriarch in Moscow.
Zelensky’s announcement seemingly is a reaction to Ukrainian officials’ concern that the Moscow-aligned church is acting as a subversive element within Ukraine. The Muscovite Patriarch, Kirill, is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position during the war. Kirill has called Putin’s past tenure as a “miracle of God.”
Russian officials have condemned Zelensky’s announcement.
“[T]he current Ukrainian authorities have openly become enemies of Christ and the Orthodox faith,” said former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.