Two recent interviews in the National Catholic Register suggest that there’s considerable confusion about what’s what in Ukraine. Those confusions reflect the success of the extraordinary Russian disinformation campaign that’s been underway for the past fifteen months. They may also touch on the delicate but important question of Russia’s attempts to buy influence in the West under the guise of the Putin regime’s alleged “pro-family” policies.
In any case, these confusions are an obstacle to Catholic efforts to promote freedom and justice in a country that has suffered terribly for generations and now finds itself fighting for its very life. So it’s important to get things straight. Let me quote the confusions (in italics) before providing the clarification.
“There’s a lack of verifiable data: ‘The real situation is not very well known [said Msgr. Duarte da Cunha, secretary general of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences]. Why is there a conflict if no one wants a conflict? Who is behind those who want the separation of the Ukrainian territory?’”
The situation is, in fact, entirely well known; it has been documented by international monitors and intrepid journalists; and there should be no confusion about the causes of the conflict: Russia has invaded Ukraine and is supporting “separatists” who are agents of Vladimir Putin’s imperial reconstruction project. Putin trampled on international law by unilaterally annexing Crimea. His special forces and the local gangsters they support are doing exactly the same thing in southern and eastern Ukraine. Russia is “behind” the “separatists,” and everyone with eyes to see knows it.
“‘. . . the Church is very prudent. We understand the importance of Russia for Europe. The fight should not be between Russia and Europe . . .’ [Msgr. Duarte da Cunha, again].”
The primary “importance of Russia” for Europe today involves Russian oil and natural gas—resources that Putin’s regime uses as weapons to buttress its aggression. A KGB man to the core, Putin is running a mafia-state atop a crumbling civil society; the oligarchs he has enriched at home are trying to buy European politicians and European non-governmental organizations, including pro-life organizations, as part of the regime’s disinformation campaign; and the Russian Orthodox Church leadership has been, sadly, a participant in Moscow’s disinformation campaigns. Those are the salient facts about Russia-and-Europe, and Russia-and-the-Church, at the moment. Prudence is a cardinal virtue, to be sure; confusing prudence with gullibility and fecklessness in the face of aggression is not an exercise of virtue.
“’Even though it seems clear that Ukraine is not able to get out of the situation alone, no solution can come from outside, not from Russia or the U.S. or the E.U. It has to be their own’ [Msgr. Duarte da Cunha, yet again].”
Imagine saying this about France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland or Czechoslovakia in 1941. Like those countries then, Ukraine today has been invaded by an aggressor; the aggressor is murdering Ukrainians; and Ukraine has asked for help. The “solution” requires solidarity with the country under attack (including providing Ukraine with the means of self-defense) and effective pressure on the aggressor. That support and that pressure can only come from the United States and the E.U.; it isn’t coming from extraterrestrials.
“’I know there are some Catholics who believe . . . that the Orthodox faith is a nationalist faith . . . merely a form of national identity. . . . But this position does not take into account the sanctity of Christian life in so many families and so many individuals in Russia’ [Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside the Vatican].”
Rubbish. It’s entirely possible to honor the noble and living tradition of Russian Orthodox spirituality and recognize that Russian Orthodoxy’s leadership today functions as a Kremlin mouthpiece in matters Ukrainian, even as it lies about the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s role in the current crisis and betrays its ecumenical commitments in doing so.
In sum: The notion that Putin’s Russia can be a genuine partner in international pro-life and pro-family work is a snare and a delusion, given the murderous character of Putin’s regime. There can be no serious ecumenical dialogue with clerical agents of Russian state power.
George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.