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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda instrumentalizes religious issues for its own purposes

The Russian Orthodox Church categorically supports Russia’s war against Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church takes part in the deportation of Ukrainians from the temporarily occupied territories and raises funds to help the Russian army. Patriarch Kyrylo believes that the death of a Russian soldier in this war allows him to get rid of all sins. He is joyfully echoed by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is in canonical connection with the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian propaganda has repeatedly invoked religion to justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Long before 2014, the Kremlin used a dangerous weapon against Ukrainians - the soft power of religion. It is about the ability to influence through persuasion and argumentation, and not through coercion or violence. The Russian Orthodox Church is a form of soft power, and the strengthening of its religious supremacy serves the Kremlin's geopolitical goals.

Part of the Ukrainian clerics systematically plays along with the Russian propaganda machine. Let us remember the odious Pasha Mercedes, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who called the full-scale invasion of Russia “a war between America and Russia to the last Ukrainian”, rejoiced at the occupation of Kherson, and also spoke in unison with Russian propaganda, allegedly Russian troops “thrashed at those American laboratories in Kyiv and Odesa that the dust scattered from them ...".

Russian propaganda often depicts parishioners and clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) as martyrs for the truth, who are persecuted in Ukraine on religious grounds. Russia seeks to evoke strong feelings for the “suffering” believers (compassion, sympathy) and rage towards their “oppressors”. This tactic is often used by propagandists to divert attention from their own misconduct and to demonize opponents. For example, Russian propaganda compared President Zelenskyi and his “godless” policy towards the UOC with “manifestations of the devil”.

Russian propaganda is trying to discredit its “competitors” - the Orthodox Church of Ukraine: it labels them “schismatics” and in every possible way raises their authority. The policy of Ukraine towards the UOC is dictated by the Pentagon, which deliberately tries to breed all kinds of sects, cults, esoteric teachings of magicians, wizards and psychics, because these “religious subjects” are easy to control. For example, they can be forced to commit “terrorist acts” on the Crimean bridge or in Russia. This propaganda technique is designed to distract from the real situation, hide the true causes and consequences, and impose conspiracy theories.

All these propaganda techniques are designed to create the illusion of a religious civil conflict in Ukraine for both other states and Ukrainians, to split them along religious lines. Although in fact, all this is a well-directed performance in Moscow. The latest public opinion polls convincingly show that Ukrainians understand this: 78% of citizens believe that the state should interfere in one way or another in the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Among them, 54% believe that this religious institution should be completely banned in Ukraine.

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