Summary. This article describes informational warfare and position of actors of process of granting autocephaly for Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Authors analized different messages from each part in the context of Russian-Ukrainian hybrid war.
On April 19, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, with the support of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament of Ukraine), appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate with a request of granting Tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). Consequently, it intensified the confrontation between supporters and opponents of the independence of the church in Ukraine, aggravated the existing religious conflict and stipulated increased society cleavage, which is undeniably an element of both a greater confrontation and a global process.
Let’s take Russia’s hybrid warfare against Ukraine as an example. During the NATO summit in Wales the former NATO military commander General Philip M. Breedlove even called today’s actions of the Russian Federation the most impressive Blitzkrieg that the history of information wars has ever seen. Also, Breedlove noted that Russia’s hybrid approach consists of trying to use all possible tools to create a problem and continue to play on it, including using military instruments.
Different parts of the risen Ukrainian Orthodoxy have different attitude towards Ukrainian statehood and, respectively, interact differently with the Ukrainian authorities and the opposition. The Constitution of Ukraine separates the church from the state, but different churches take different sides in the Ukrainian political process and encourage their believers to follow them. And it is often used for various kinds of manipulation and provoking of conflicts. And the question of uniting different Orthodox churches in Ukraine and granting Tomos of autocephaly has not become an exception. Currently, the church issue and the information warfare are the main fronts of the Russian-Ukrainian war, where other parties were involved.
Another part of the conflict is the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on which the decision of the issue of independence and recognition of the Ukrainian Local Church considerably rest on.
In this context, the issue of affiliation of the Ukrainian territory to the canonical church is highly important, because only the Mother Church can give independence to some of its part. It turned out that two sides, namely, Constantinople and Moscow consider Ukraine as its canonical territory. Both sides appeal to their versions of its historical affiliation. The controversy began in 1686, when Constantinople transmitted the Kyiv Metropolis to the Moscow Church. However, it did not fix Moscow’s ownership of Ukrainian lands, which later were ‘annexed’. Therefore, the Patriarch can return this territory now and give the independence at once. However, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) avers that there is a document that confirms the transfer of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to Moscow in perpetuity, so autocephaly cannot be provided without the consent of the ROC.
Also the behavior of the actors in the information space and in the press, and their impact on each other are important. The Russian Orthodox Church (on Ukrainian territory – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which is in direct subordination of the Russian Orthodox Church), and its supporters who oppose autocephaly, are the most active ones.
From the very moment of the appeal of Ukrainian authorities to Constantinople, the UOC-MP’s reaction was ambiguous. The spokesman of the church, Mykola Danilevich, publicly declares that he is against the state interference in church affairs and in the process of uniting churches. In his opinion, if the unification is to happen, it will be possible only under the auspices of the UOC-MP and any initiatives of politicians concerning the church question are in advance unsuccessful and these initiatives are not more than a pre-election PR. Simultaneously with such statements in various dioceses of the UOC-MP believers agitated to sign the appeals to the Ecumenical Patriarch with the request “not to legalize the split” and to protest against the creation of a single local church based on “groups of splitters: the UOC Kyiv Patriarchate (KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC)”. When the Ecumenical Patriarch ignored those appeals, the next phase of the ROC’s offensive on Constantinople began. At the end of June the People’s Deputy of Ukraine Vadim Novinsky together with four church hierarchs of the UOC-MP visited Patriarch Bartholomew to “discuss the situation with the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and propose their ways to resolve the situation”. At the same time the Head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Volokolamsky Ilarioncontinues his bypass of the Orthodox local churches “in order to find out their opinion on the Ukrainian question and to inform about the real state of affairs” and also gives a series of rather ambiguous interviews, which threatens the bloodshed on the territory of Ukraine in case of giving Tomos in. In a later interview, he threatens the Ecumenical Patriarchate to split, unseen since the Great Schism of 1054.
The next stage of the information confrontation was around the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russ’. As it was decided to divide the celebration for two days in order to prevent crossing of parishioners of different churches, and thus prevent provocations and further escalations, the UOC-MP chose a very interesting strategy. A few weeks before the celebrations in loyal mass media the information about the refusal of carriers to carry parishioners to the UOC-MP’s prayer in Kyiv because of the pressure and threats of the transport administration had begun to appear. Then in the same media emerged distorted data regarding the number of people who had taken part in both prayers. So according to the police, about 20 thousand people took part in the events of the UOC-MP, and according to the information department of the UOC-MP there were 250 thousand people. Similarly, the data regarding the next day events of the UOC-KP and UAOC are distored – according to the police, it is about 65 thousand people, but the sources close to the UOC-MP speak about a few thousand people, and the using of administrative resources. After it the UOC-MP and the Russian Orthodox Church silenced in the information space. However, as soon as it became clear that the final decision regarding Tomos of autocephaly will be made at Synaxis (assembly of all hierarchs) in Constantinople on September 1-3, Patriarch Kirill announced the meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew on August 31.
Concerning the Ukrainian side, the issue of granting the Orthodox Church in Ukraine the status of independence is engaged by President Poroshenko since the beginning of his cadenza, namely, from 2014. In the first months of the presidency, the appeal was directed to the Ecumenical Patriarch regarding the granting autocephaly to the UOC. Significant progress in promotion of this issue was reached on April 9, 2018, at the meeting between P. Poroshenko and Bartholomew, when the legal way of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church was agreed. The fact that the Russian Orthodox Church ignored the Pan-Orthodox Council, which took place on the island of Crete in 2016, which was an important event for Patriarch Bartholomew and the Orthodox world as a whole, had positive effect for the Ukrainian side. Media had not been showing this process until April 2018, when the President appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the Ecumenical Patriarchate had needed to be properly acquainted with the religious situation in Ukraine, what had been made on the background of the spread of myths by the Russian side. On April 22, after passing the previous procedures, Poroshenko informed about the transfer of appeals from himself and from the UOC-KP and the UAOC to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the beginning of the process.
On June 26, this year, the secretary of the Holy Synod of the UOC-KP Bishop Yevstratiy (Zorya) reacted to the visit of the Ukrainian People’s Deputy V. Novinsky and a delegation from the UOC-MP to Phanar. In his opinion, this visit testified about the recognition by the Russian side of the inevitability of Tomos. Moreover, the Bishop believes that such an action could not change the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and could not interfere with the process.
The important newsbreak, as well as for the UOC-MP, was the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’. Two main messages from the supporters of Tomos were: more believers, according to the official data, had taken part in the events (and, accordingly, the greater subjectivity), and also participation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s delegation, which preferred the UOC-KP and the UAOC, but not repre-sentatives of the Moscow Patriarchate or personally Patriarch Kirill (both sides had invited Bartholomew).
The procession in Kyiv on the occasion of the anniversary had witnessed two important points: firstly, the creation of an independent church; and secondly, victory over the external enemy. Filaret stressed on it in the prayer “For Ukraine and the Ukrainian local Orthodox Church”. Also the head of OUN, Bohdan Chervack, expressed the reaction concerning procession which had been organized by UON-MP, naming it ‘anti-Ukrainian shabash’. According to him, this is a political action aimed at preventing securing independence by the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
Later, Patriarch Filaret stated that after giving Tomos the history of the Russian Orthodox Church will not begin with the Baptism of Russ’, but from 1448, when it was separated from the Kyiv Metropolis. He confirmed his words with acknowledging this fact by the Russian Orthodox Church at the 500th anniversary celebration of the autocephaly of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus Filaret implies that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate is the Mother Church for the Russian Orthodox Church, and not vice versa.
Another interesting fact is that three days before the celebration the former bishop of the UOC-KP Sevastian, who was liberated from the administration of the Chernihiv diocese in 2008, had made an attempt on Filaret. However, details are not reported.
The Ukrainian side had hoped for autocephaly until the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’, but the process had not moved so fast. After the celebration of the anniversary, the opponents intensified the informational pressure: there were predictions that Tomos will not be given at all because the actions of Constantinople indicate that this issue is delayed in the far box, or it will not be soon, because the Synod’s sitting in early July and Ukraine’s question was not discussed. V. Novinsky, an opponent of autocephaly, also took notice to the fact that the granting of auto-cephaly is a long process, since the traditions and laws of the church have been formed for a long time and the church is a separate structure from the state, therefore the path chosen by the President is wrong and with such a strategy the UOC will not receive independence for a few hundred years. During this time, supporters of autocephaly from the Ukrainian side changed their opinion about a date of receiving autocephaly: they began to talk about such dates as 1-3 September, as Synaxis will be held at that time, and it is highly probable that Ukrainian issue will be considered.
Another turn of the confrontation was the destiny of church property in Ukraine. The Russian side repeatedly stated about the power grabbing of the Lavras (the biggest churches in Ukraine), which belong to the Moscow Patriarchate, and, as a result, possible bloodshed and even bigger split. Filaret replies that there will be no grabbing of the Lavras, because all church property is the property of communities which decide on their own which patriarchate to choose, therefore, the Moscow Patriarchate does not have property in Ukraine. In fact, there is no legal entity such as the ‘Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate’ in Ukraine. So, there is no single structure in the country in which all the churches and other buildings of the Moscow Patriarchate are fixed. As a rule, different legal entities are the owners of different church realty objects. The Pochayiv Lavra is the property of the religious organization Pochayiv Svyato-Uspenska Lavra. The situation with the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is more complicated, because it is divided into the Upper and Lower Lavra. The lower part is now entirely owned by the Svyato-Uspenska Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, namely, by the Moscow Patriarchate. The upper is in state ownership in the management of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, as the National Historical and Cultural Reserve, which is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
As for Constantinople and Patriarch Bartholomew himself, they act very carefully in the media, either just keeping intrigue, or avoiding premature criticism. But all the newsbreaks provided by the official Phanar, though rare but clearly understandable. Thus, the first delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church to Constantinople was not accepted at all. Further more, Patriarch Bartholomew during the memorial service on the occasion of the 40-day of the death of Metropolitan Evangelos of Perge said that the Constantinople officially does not recognize the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church over Ukraine, and accused Moscow of exceeding its powers. And the last, most important step was the refusal to celebrate the anniversary of the Baptism of Russ in Moscow with the sending of official delegation to Kyiv and the celebration together with the UOC-KP and the UAOC.
Consequently, we can say that the possibility of giving Tomos of autocephaly and at least partial overcoming of the church split in Ukraine caused an escalation of the confrontation in the information environment and involved in the process not only religious organizations but also official authority. At the same time, instead of discussing the best way and the necessity of achieving the goal, the typical toolkit of the hybrid war is used to achieve maximum fragmentation and rejection among Ukrainian believers of different church organizations and among recognized local Orthodox churches. It’s about manipulation and misinformation, the creation of negative images and the demonstration of violent intentions. Therefore, we can assume that the confrontation around Tomos of autocephaly is one of the elements of the Russian hybrid warfare against Ukraine.
- Vandiver J. Saceur: Allies must prepare for Russia ‘hybrid war’ / J. Vandiver [Електронний ресурс]. – Режим доступу: http://www.stripes.com/news/saceur-allies-must-prepare-for-russiahybrid-war-1.301464
* MA student of Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University
** BA student of Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University
 Vandiver J. Saceur: Allies must prepare for Russia ‘hybrid war’ / J. Vandiver [Електронний ресурс]. – Режим доступу: http://www.stripes.com/news/saceur-allies-must-prepare-for-russiahybrid-war-1.301464
 https://24tv.ua/skilki_viryan_vzyali_uchast_u_hodi_upts_mp_vrazhayucha_riznitsya _mizh_danimi_politsiyi_ta_tserkvi_n1005921
 https://zik.ua/news/2018/07/23/lider_oun_zasterig_vid_povtoru_agresyvnyh_ provokatsiy_moskovskogo_1371911