Putin's failed mission to Rome


by Sergei Klimovsky

Obozrevatel, 8 July 2019


Despite the lack of a press conference and official statements on the results of the conversation between Roman Pope Francis and Putin, it is entirely obvious why he traveled to Rome and to the Vatican.


There was one reason for the trip: the unpleasant for the Russian Federation consequences of its attack on Ukraine and the search for a means of their amelioration or removal. The Kremlin now has seen two directions of the quest for such means and both led Putin to Rome, in order to probe there issues of their possible realization.


The first direction is the high likelihood of the unification in Ukraine of the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches. The likelihood of its happening grew after the tomos, which greatly disturbs the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church (RPTs). But the immediate impetus was the attack and occupation in 2014 by the Russian army of Crimea and the east of Ukraine. It showed unambiguously that in the event of the occupation of all of Ukraine, the parishes of the Greek Catholic Church and the Orthodox church of the Kiev patriarchate will be forcibly liquidated and the buildings and property seized and transferred to the RPTs. Russian propaganda did not conceal this, and the practice of the occupiers of Crimea and the Donbass clearly confirmed this. The war accelerated the process of unification, which before it had proceeded sluggishly at the level of general discussions and non-binding meetings within the context of the ecumenical movement.


The second impetus was the joint Havana declaration of Roman Pope Francis and RPTs Patriarch Kirill, signed by them in February 2016 in Cuba. Point No. 25 in it called directly for the unification in Ukraine of the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches without specifying their affiliation with the Kiev or Moscow patriarchates.


This point, and the entire declaration, maintained the spirit of the attitudes of the ecumenical movement about reconciliation and fraternal convergence of Catholics and Orthodox after a schism lasting almost 1,000 years. Moscow planned in the future to use an appeal to this point of the Declaration for justifying the forcible liquidation of Ukrainian churches and representing this as an act of "fraternal convergence," but it miscalculated: the process did not go according to their plan.


The unification in 2018 of two Orthodox churches in Ukraine and the joining of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (PTsU) by some parishes and clergy of the RPTs and the tomos from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew fundamentally changed the situation. The unification of the PTsU and the UGKTs [Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church], if it occurs, will reflect completely the spirit and letter of the Havana declaration, and below it stands the signature of the head of the RPTs, which makes impossible any criticism of it from Moscow. To be sure, Moscow can distort everything, but in this case it will be extremely difficult to do.


The unification of the UGKTs and the PTsU will be a splendid illustration of the success and practical achievement of the ecumenical movement, in which Rome and Constantinople are interested. At the same time, it will be a terrible catastrophe and failure of the entire church policy of the Kremlin, since after unification Kiev will thereby acquire the status of a third center of Christianity on the level of Rome and Constantinople, successfully combining in itself the present and the past. It is possible to say that Kiev will become the Third Rome, if one employs the archaic literary form so beloved in Moscow. For the Kremlin, this is a complete catastrophe.


The feeling of such an impending catastrophe in the RPTs arose already in the period of the PTsU's reception of the tomos, but the Kremlin did not know how to combat it. Usual information attacks and provocations did not stop the unification of the churches and the tomos. To their horror, the RPTs and Kremlin discovered:  they do not have anything authoritative on the level of the temples of Jerusalem, Rome, and Holy Wisdom to present to the public. Kiev's Holy Wisdom cathedral and monastery of the Caves, even if all of Ukraine were occupied, will still remain in place and not migrate to Moscow.


The first decision that occurred to them was entirely in the style of the "new Russians": let's spare no expense and build a new, cool residence for the leadership of the church in all of Russia and promote it as an architectural masterpiece, center of spirituality and sanctity, and everything that can flow from such an eminent person.


Since the tomos for Ukraine was moving forward inexorably, as early as January 2018 the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation began to develop a project for constructing a residence of the head of the RPTs in Tsarskoe Selo, now the city Pushkin, a part of Pushkin district of St. Petersburg on the border with Leningrad oblast. The project was "modest," just 2.8 billion rubles. But after a year the news media began writing about it negatively. For the Kremlin, after the scandal of St. Isaac's cathedral and in the tense year of gubernatorial elections for St. Petersburg, in which they could piggy-back on Alexander Beglov, it was decided not to complicate the situation and in May the press service of the RPTs stated: the new residence for the patriarch in Pushkino will not be built. All that was going on there was just restoration work on the complex of Fedorov town that had belonged to the RPTs forever, that is, since the Moscow army arrived there.


But the real response to the tomos and the threatening unification of the UGKTs and the PTsU had to be not the building in Pushkino but a grandiose project near Moscow to remake the city of Sergiev Posad and the St. Sergius Holy Trinity lavra in the likeness of an Orthodox Vatican. Designers from the Strelka construction bureau do not hide the scale of the task assigned to them: to create something on the model of Jerusalem, the Vatican, and Mecca. Two billion dollars were allotted to the project, which is just one billion less than the cost of the construction of the bridge to Crimea. The Kremlin and the RPTs are preparing to meet the catastrophe approaching them adequately, but they still hope that they will be able to prevent it.


With this hope, Putin also requested an audience with Pope Francis simply in order to request: how much will it cost to prevent the unification of the UGKTs and the PTsU? If it is impossible to prevent this entirely, then how much will it cost to delay it? With these questions he rushed to the Vatican on the day before there arrived there on 5 July Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk and other bishops of the UGKTs. Since the topic of the fraternal convergence of the two Orthodox churches, the UGKTs and PTsU, is not in a hurry and not this year, then there is no doubt that if Archbishop Shevchuk had not come to the Vatican, then Putin would have stayed in Moscow. And it was necessary for him to fly himself, since he could not send Patriarch Kirill to the Vatican, unlike to the Phanar.


In the end, the pope talked with Putin 45 minutes, while two days of the valuable time of the Roman pontiff were allotted for discussion with Archbishop Shevchuk and the delegation of the UGKTs. It was not possible to buy off the Roman pope, judging by the fact that Putin did not invite him on a return visit to Moscow, as many had expected to happen. The pope himself confirmed this on 6 July when at a meeting with the delegation of the UGKTs he unambiguously condemned the hybrid war, which the Russian Federation is conducting in the east of Ukraine.


The trip to the Vatican for the Russian state delegation with Putin turned out to be without a result, if one does not count videos where he is standing next to the Roman pope.


But the Kremlin does not live by the pope alone. Rome itself and Italy also are worth something and the Kremlin decided to test their new global strategic plan on them. This was the second topic that Putin was probing in Rome.


The plan is still muddled and raw, but they do not have another, for now. The Kremlin decided that if it is still impossible to buy the Roman pope, then it is necessary to sell Putin as a new pope for all of Europe. What they did was, sparing no expense, to buy an interview with Putin in the British Financial Times and two Italian newspapers. Strictly speaking, the Financial Times newspaper is British only in terms of birthplace and residence, but in practice it is published throughout the world with regional peculiarities, and it is 100% owned since 2015 by the Japanese Nikkei media corporation.


In all these interviews, Putin was positioned as the preserver of the true values of Christianity and the person who is able to defend Europeans from migrants, gays, and everything evil, including global warming. The sale of such an image of Putin began back in Moscow with his interview with the chief editor of the Financial Times newspaper, Lionel Barber, who flew from London for this purpose, and Henry Foy, the head of its affiliate in Moscow. At the meeting, Barber posed the question and Foy was silent and smiled, but after it he decided to dispute independently with Putin and he wrote an article refuting the claim that almost no oligarchs remain in the Russian Federation. Foy did not choose to accuse Putin of lying, but he just politely noted that the old guard of Yeltsin's oligarchs, the "seven bankers," was replaced by a new one called Putin's chief "moneybags." He smeared Putin's debut by making it clear that there is no sense in polishing up old goods with a new label.


In Italy, everything also did not go according to plan. The very sick, but still living, 82-year-old retired Mafioso Berlusconi came to the Fiumichino airport to meet Putin and began embracing his Russian colleague. Because of the embraces with Berlusconi, Putin was late for the pope, which actually Kremlin protocol provides. Putin's systematic tardiness is a traditional device of soviet leaders and FSB agents, in order to show who is chief. You need me and you wait. The very embraces with Berlusconi also were a mistake, which the FSB did not even understand by virtue of its mentality.

After the audience with the pope, the Russian president traveled about Rome for meeting with the president of Italy, Sergio Mattrella, and its prime minster Giuseppe Konte. With the president, everything went as with the pope, that is, nowhere. With the premier it was better. After Putin's whining about how because of the sanctions trade between the EU and the RF has declined by almost two times. And that because of this Europeans lost income, taxes, and jobs, the premier promised to raise this question in the EU. This was stated just two days after the EU unanimously extended for six months the miracle-working sanctions against the RF, and the Kremlin extended its own countersanctions. Moscow called this a substantive conversation.


It seems that the sale of Putin's new image is just as unhurried, tangled, and seamless a process as the unification of the UGKTs with the PTsU. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 July 2019)

Russian original posted on Credo.Press portal, 8 July 2019

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Editorial disclaimer: RRN does not intend to certify the accuracy of information presented in articles. RRN simply intends to certify the accuracy of the English translation of the contents of the articles as they appeared in news media of countries of the former USSR.

If material is quoted, please give credit to the publication from which it came. It is not necessary to credit this Web page. If material is transmitted electronically, please include reference to the URL,