Russia will protect the interests of Orthodox believers in Ukraine in case of violence after the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate agreed to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Kremlin said Friday.
"Russia, as it protects the interests of Russians and Russian speakers... protects the interests of Orthodox believers," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists when asked about reports in Russian media that Ukrainian radicals plan to storm religious sites under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate next week. He said in case of "unlawful" events such measures would be "exclusively political and diplomatic." "This is if the Ukrainian authorities are unable to keep the situation within legal bounds, if it takes some ugly, violent turn," he said.
The Holy Synod chaired by the Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul on Thursday said it had agreed to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has historically operated under Moscow's umbrella. The move was met with fury by the Patriarch of Moscow, who would effectively lose influence over thousands of parishes if they decide to split off and join the new independent church.
Peskov said that the Kremlin is "very concerned" about the decision as "everything that happens in the world of Orthodoxy is an issue of heightened interest for the [Russian] government." He said however, that the Kremlin does not intervene in church affairs.