Friday 1 July 2022
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Russia-Vs-Ukraine: War Of Religious Identity

The West fails to grasp that the attack of Russia on Ukraine is a war of religious reclamation by Orthodox Christianity of its core cultural-religious sphere


Pankaj Saxena
Pankaj Saxena
Author writing on history, Hindu architecture and literature, chief editor of Indic Varta, formerly working at Centre for Indic Studies

A primary problem of the West is that it denies existence to any other epistemology than its own. What is not real according to their current ideological standards does not exist at all. Religion for the contemporary West is nothing but a shoddy excuse for politicians to fight. So they will deny agency to religion in each and every case, attributing it to some economic or political reason. But they will refuse any religious motivation. The global is demonising President of Russia Vladimir Putin again and again claiming, ‘it is the rapaciousness of one man’. Even great intellectuals like Harari and Taleb are playing into this false narrative that it is the political hunger of one dictator which is leading so many individuals down the violent road. Well, it is not. Any other leader of Russia with a vision would do this. It is not just Putin. The desire for reclaiming Ukraine is a long-standing Russian cultural process. By hinging it on the ‘war mongering of dictators’ the West is losing sight of what the struggle really is about.

It is a religious war. But not between two different sects or religions. It is a war of religious reclamation by Orthodox Russia of its core cultural and religious sphere. It is a war for reclaiming the original core of Orthodoxy. Ukraine is Russia. That is Russia’s contention. It is not a separate country. It is an integral part of Russia that has gone separatist in recent history. But Ukraine was not satisfied with just like Belarus. It wanted to play the axis of anti-Russian politics and culture in Europe and not just a stooge of NATO. And that is why its ‘independence’ could not be respected by Russia. And Russia is not wrong. This is what a perceptive journalist in the West wrote:

“Last year, on the anniversary of the baptism of the Rus, Kirill preached to his people, urging them to stay true to Vladimir’s conversion and the blood of the orthodox martyrs. He told them to love “our homeland, our people, our rulers and our army. The Western secular imagination doesn’t get this. It looks at Putin’s speech the other evening, and it describes him as mad — which is another way of saying we do not understand what is going on. And we show how little we understand by thinking that a bunch of sanctions is going to make a blind bit of difference. They won’t. “Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” Putin said. That’s what this is all about, “spiritual space” — a terrifying phrase steeped in over a thousand years of Russian religious history.”

As my last explained how Ukraine boasts the first ‘Rus’ — Kievan Rus in the 10th century. To reclaim Ukraine and merge it within the core Russian cultural sphere is a long-standing Russian dream. To leave Ukraine independent would mean to abjure claim on the core Slavic-Orthodox identity. And that is impossible for Russia.

The West doesn’t understand or refuses to understand the religious motivations behind national and international struggles. And that’s where they falter. It is the same with Islam. They try to interpret it in all other ways other than religious-political and economic, most of all. But the core of the struggle is religion.

When the Soviet Union broke down, out of the 15 splinter countries that came out of it, 2 were most important for Russian cultural consciousness — Ukraine and Belarus.

The Baltic countries were occupied in the Second World War and they are neither Slav nor Orthodox, so despite all the brutality and resettling of Russians, they were never part of Mother Russia. They are the Western outposts on the Baltic seaboard since the time of the Teutonic Knights. When Prussia existed as one country, and when Poland did not use to have a great seaboard, the German country extended from Hamburg to Konigsberg (what is now Kaliningrad). The World Wars gave Poland its current seaboard and separated the German coast. Konigsberg is the German splinter left with Russia today. So Russia is not interested in reclaiming the Baltic countries if they agree to play the game of Finlandisation with it.

The Caucasus are a different case. While half of them are Muslim, the Christian tribes and countries like Georgia and Armenia are flagrantly not Slav. They are Orthodox but not Slav. And in Orthodoxy, their origin is much prior to the Russian Orthodox Church. By some calculations, Armenia is the oldest Christian State and the oldest Orthodoxy. Georgian Orthodox Church is also ancient and has always been separate. They were never part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The central Asian states were, of course, occupied by the Czar and then Lenin. And they are Muslim. Except for a few parts of Kazakhstan, Russia is not interested in occupying any of them. None of these 11 countries of the Baltics, the Caucasus and Central Asia ever a part of the cultural or religious core of Russia.

But Belarus and Ukraine are different. Belarus is just ‘White Russia’ as the name says. And it is deep in Russian cultural consciousness. Anyone who has read War and Peace knows how deeply central it is to Russian cultural consciousness. It is in Belarus where most of the Napoleon drama unfolded. How can it be not Russia? But Belarus has never tried to go separate ways. On paper, it is a different country. Otherwise, it is effectively a part of Russia.

The trouble is only Ukraine. Ukraine is even more central to Russian religious and racial consciousness. It is the ‘first Rus’. It is the ‘original Rus’. How can Russia ever let it go? They say ‘Ukraine is Russia’. And it is true. Ukraine this time took the help of Russia’s greatest political enemy, the West. Their leaders were trying to overreach themselves. Democracy is at fault I would say. Half of the Ukrainians consider themselves just ‘one kind of Russians’. It is the electoral democracy that kept pitting leader after leader who fanned the separatist flames and gave the other kind of Ukrainians the “wish to become independent” of Russians.



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