The religious factor seems to become more and more important in the ongoing geopolitical standoff in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans.
Pope Francis will receive President Putin for an audience on July 4, Holy See interim spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in a statement on June 6.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov revealed that the planning for the visit has already started.
“Preparations for Putin’s visit and contacts in Rome are under way, an audience with the pope is planned during this trip… we will make a statement concerning the details in due course,” Peskov said on June 6.
Asked if Moscow would extend an invitation for Francis to visit Russia, Peskov told reporters Thursday that it was too early to say.
This will be a third meeting between Putin and Francis. Previously, the met in 2013 and 2015. In 2009, Russia and the Vatican re-established full diplomatic ties which had been severed during Soviet times.
The meeting between Putin and Francis will come days ahead of Roman Catholic leaders from Ukraine gather in Rome to discuss the situation in Ukraine and the consequences of the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), a schismatic government-backed group created in January 2019 by non-canonical orthodox churches of Ukraine.
In May, the Vatican announced that Francis had invited the leadership of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, a minority eastern rite church loyal to the pope, for meetings July 5-6. The aim, it said, was to lend support “in the delicate situation in which Ukraine finds itself.”
The fact that Francis is set to meet Putin before the meeting with Ukrainian Catholic figures indicates that the situation in Ukraine will be among the key topics of the agenda. Political commentators and analysts following the developments in the religious sphere expect that the sides will also discuss the current complicated situation in the Church in the Balkans and the Middle East.
According to reports in Ukrainian and Russian media, representatives of the Greek Catholic Church played own role in the Ukrainian schism by backing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate and other government-backed non-canonical Orthodox churches in their push to create the OCU. The Vatican, as well as other foreign forces, saw the creation of the OCU and the weakening influence of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in Ukraine as an auspicious moment to boost own influence in the region.
The OCU and non-canonical churches, which had formed it, are mostly bothered with the internal struggle for political influence and resources within the newly established organization. Leaders of non-canonical churches involved in the OCU project believed that they, with support from the government, would be able to get control of most of church properties belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Nonetheless, this task appeared to be more complicated than they had expected. Despite the pressure from the Kiev government and harassment of its faithful by pro-OCU radicals, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) continues its resistance. One of the key factors contributing to this kind of tactical success is a deep split among power groups involved in the OCU project.
Leaders of non-canonical churches operating in Ukraine are ready to accept any support to turn the current situation in own favor. This turned the OCU and affiliated structures into an self-styled influence tool of any foreign force interested in the destabilization of the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe or instigating a social instability in this part of the region.
It is interesting to note that the agenda of the July 4 meeting between Francis and Putin looks similar to those of the recent meeting between US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. They discussed the role of Constantinople in Ukraine and “across the wider Orthodox world”. The previous position of Pyatt was US Ambassador to Ukraine where he played a notable role in the 2014 Maidan Coup and the support of non-canonical churches in their fight against the Russian Orthodox Church.
This kind of meetings is a demonstration of the fact that the leadership of the key global powers realizes the importance of the religious factor in the ongoing geopolitical standoff in Eastern Europe and other key points around the world. The Euro-Atlantic establishment backs groups and forces working to weaken traditional religious institutions and see their fragmentation and destruction as one of the tools used to destabilize states and societies opposing to the global neo-liberal (post-liberal) New World Order. At the same time, powers opposing to the neo-liberal (post-liberal) globalism are seeing traditional religious as a natural ally.
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