The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has designated Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, as a suspect in a criminal case related to his alleged active support of Moscow’s military operation against Kiev. The SBU and the Prosecutor General’s Office have gathered evidence against the religious leader, accusing him of promoting the armed aggression of the Russian Federation and denying war crimes. The SBU claims that Kirill is a member of Russia’s top military and political leadership and utilizes Orthodox communities to spread propaganda.
According to the security service, the primate could face three criminal charges: encroachment on Ukraine’s territorial integrity, justification and glorification of Russia’s actions in the conflict, and planning, preparation, initiation, and waging an aggressive war.
The investigation into the Russian church leader comes as the SBU continues its crackdown on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), suspecting it of being a Russian tool despite severing ties with Moscow after the conflict began. Ukrainian officials have seized UOC churches and transferred them to the Kiev-backed Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which is considered schismatic by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Patriarch Kirill has been placed under sanctions by Ukraine and a number of Western countries. In response, the Russian Orthodox Church has condemned the restrictions, arguing that they only serve to escalate the conflict and steer away from peace.
On February 24, 2022, the day Russia began its military operation, Kirill called on both sides to minimize civilian casualties and emphasized the centuries-old ties between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. He expressed confidence in their ability to overcome the political schism. In a subsequent statement, Kirill described the conflict as a struggle of metaphysical significance. He criticized the Ukrainian government and its Western backers for sabotaging Russian efforts to resolve the conflict in Donbass since 2014.
In September, the patriarch stated that Russia’s main task was to emerge victorious from the struggle unleashed by the forces of evil. He called for the mobilization of all of Russian society.
The SBU’s targeting of Patriarch Kirill underscores the agency’s determination to hold accountable those they believe are actively supporting Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. By designating him as a suspect, the SBU aims to further expose what they view as the patriarch’s role in spreading propaganda and undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia have deeply affected the religious landscape in the region. The conflict has not only led to physical confrontations but has also fueled divisions within religious communities. The Ukrainian government’s actions in seizing UOC churches and transferring them to the OCU have intensified these divisions and strained relations between the two Orthodox branches.
As the conflict continues, it remains to be seen how the investigation against Patriarch Kirill will unfold and what impact it will have on the already fragile religious and political dynamics in Ukraine. The SBU’s efforts to bring charges against the head of the Russian Orthodox Church demonstrate the agency’s commitment to addressing what they perceive as threats to Ukraine’s security and sovereignty.