We have written about the rising phenomenon of Russian Orthodox Extremism already, and to illustrate its practical implementation here is a brief sketch of its most dreadful implementation – a band called Russian Orthodox Army (ROA) – savage heavily armed terrorist group operating in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine’s Donbas. This regiment is known (and feared in Donbas) for kidnappings, persecutions, killings, and tortures of believers of other than Russian Orthodoxy religions. Ukrainian Orthodox, Catholics, Greek-Catholics, and Protestants are in the top of ROA’s hit-list.
The name “Russian Orthodox Army” first appeared in the news in spring 2014 though their leader told in public interviews that they had been organized in February 2014. Actual preparations and training must had started much earlier. In summer 2014 the “Army” boasted 4000-5000 fighters and was one of the three major armed terrorist bands controlling separatist regions of Donbas. In his interviews to Western media the group’s leader mr. Verin openly told that 20 percent of the Russian Orthodox Army’s chiefs had been Russians, and the remaining 80 percent locals.
Since its appearance ROA has specialized at kidnapping activists, journalist, non-Russian-Orthodox clergy.
Though most of its people are from Ukraine’s East, the organization is closely connected with Russian ultranationalist organization “Russian national unity”. The Russian orthodox Army doesn’t have its own web-site, only several groups in Russian social network Vkontakte.
Russian Orthodox Army Beliefs, “Russian World” ideology and practice
The beliefs of the band are very dualistic: fundamentalist Orthodoxy on one hand, neo-paganism – on the other. Being Russian here is much more important than being an Orthodox. Even more – the word “Orthodox” often means some idealized, pagan, pre-Christian world that, according to ideologists, existed in Russian lands before Christianity appeared. The main goals of ROA are connected with revanchist ideas – the dream of return to Soviet Empire’s grandeur through kind of “Slavic reconquista” justified with “spiritual” ideology – protection and broadening of the “Russian World”.
ROA is a core spreader of Russian Orthodox and ultra-right ideas among the Donbas separatists and population. They promote ideas like extermination of all Ukrainians and Ukrainian language, “Russian ‘reconquest’” of all the Ukraine, turning the rest of Ukraine (and some other countries) into Russian provinces as it had been under Russian Empire and Soviet Union.
In practice making Donbas only-Russian-Orthodox requires extermination of local long-existing tradition of many religions’ peaceful coexistence (Donbas is the most religiously diverse region of Ukraine, thus – there’s a lot of potential victims for the enforcers of the “only true belief”). This is where news about mass turning of Donbas protestant prayer houses into Russian soldier barracks and storehouses, executions of priests and pastors come from, as well as dreadful confessions about tortures and persecutions of non-Russian-Orthodoxes.
“Russian world” doesn’t need religious tolerance, freedom of conscience and religion. After the creation of Russian separatist “states” they declared the “constitutions” which claim religious intolerance to be the basis of their religious politics – Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchy is to be considered the “prime and dominant” faith.
* * *
ROA looks weird: it often issues calls like “we won’t stop until we capture Kyiv and Lviv” some of its soldiers have been reported bringing icons to the battlefield, the journalists who had seen their headquarters report them to be infested with icons. One of group’s commander goes by the nikname “Demon,” a pseudonym unthinkable for an Orthodox, which is much more concerned with fighting devil and demons than other branches of Christianity. Many of their members are Russian “cossaks” and radical pagans and there have been rumors of Orthodox monks fighting on their side.
ROA is not alone – there are other Russian terrorist groups fighting in Donbas which claim to be following Orthodox or Orthodox-neopagan ideology in their quest, like the battalions “Orthodox Donbass“, “Orthodox rise”, “Svarog”.
Official Chruch’s attitude
Despite lots of witnesses of the bloody deeds of ROA, the Russian Orthodox Church still hasn’t neither condemned the band in their speeches, nor commented their activity in any public way.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchy (an autonomous sub-branch of Russian Orthodox Church) in June 2014 told that they “condemn the so-called political Orthodoxy when religious symbolics and rhetorics is used for achievement of earthly goals. UOCh’s official speaker, Georgiy Kovalenko admitted that Donbas separatists “are trying to bring a religious component into geopolitical conflict”. Still, the UOCh seems to be flabbergasted by the phenomenon.
Numerous parallels of Russian Orthodox Terrorism to islamic, jihhadist terrorism have been noted in media. They are true to large extent, ROA and the like groups do have much in common with many ISIL-like fundamentalist terrorist groups all over. The main difference is that despite seeming spontaneity of appearance, all these Orthodox terrorist groups are guided, armed, and inspired from one center.
For the civilized world this band’s activity should be a demonstration of what “Russian World” ideology really is and an illustration of how dangerous Russian Orthodox Extremism can be, and how easily it crosses the line between academic constructions that theoretically ground the superiority of Russian people over others, and ruthless fundamentalist terrorism.
Where does ROA lead?
Whom do ROA and other Russian Orthodox Extremist groups threat? – Everyone around Russia – first to occupied Crimea, where pressure on Crimean Tatars and arsons of their mosques takes place already. Potentially Orthodox extremism and terrorism can be used at any territories that Russia’s military leadership sees as possible aim of invasion like Kazahstan, Baltic states, Balkans, Belorus, and for inner terror against religious minorities in Russia itself (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Catholic and Protestant believers, and even those Russian Orthodox, not subordinate to Moscow Patriarchy).
At this point Putin doesn’t let the Russian Orthodox Army to Russia. It’s too dangerous for his regime. Anarchy in Donbas is the great training ground to play with it and study possible usages of this group and the like in provoking interreligious conflicts or empowering existing conflicts with religious component.
Such criminal bands armed with latest Russian weapons and blessed with the light of the only true Russian religion and thus having mandate for murder, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, and racket will be used by Putin’s regime against neighboring countries. Russian society will never condemn those people – just because they call themselves “Russian” and “Orthodox”.
Thus we witness a new trend: after years of careful experimentation with the use of religion in ideology, Putin has worked out an effective ideologic tool for motivating bearers of “Russian (Orthodox) identity” to suffer, fight, and endure any hardships for the Orthodox Empire. This blend of aggressive fundamentalist religion with the power of government controlled media and TV has become such an effective tool for mass manipulation that Dr. Goebbels with his primitive propaganda machine looks like an innocent infant. Russian Orthodox Army and smaller Orthodox fundamentalist organizations are the warhead of this ideology. For sure if not stopped in Ukraine such a tool is soon to receive new uses and developments.
It’s not mere theorization – the presence of Serbian Orthodox fighters on the Russian side in Donbas shows that fundamentalist Orthodox ideology has followers abroad and thus might be exported.
If you found an error, highlight it and press Shift + E or Alt to inform us.