Staunton, May 19 – The selection of Aleksandr Boroday and Igor Girkin to leading positions in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk Peoples Republic” in Ukraine not only shows the absence of mass support for that entity and its goals but shows that the Kremlin is playing with something many had assumed did not exist – “Orthodox terrorism,” Nikolay Mitrokhin says.
And the Grani commentator warns that there is no assurance that this kind of terrorism will not spread back into Russia itself and pointedly notes that the Russian Imperial government’s use of Black Hundreds and pogroms “clearly shows what this can lead to.”
If the “Donetsk Peoples Republic” had any support, “there would have been a line of representatives of the local political or business elites” ready to “sign an agreement with Putin,” he points out. And there would not have been any need to dispatch “42-year-old Moscow PR specialist” Boroday and make him “prime minister.”
And if the Donetsk population supported the entity, Girkin, who wrote under the pseudonym Igor Strelkov and has now become “the defense minister” of that entity, would not be acknowledging that “the male population of the region, and especially the youth do not want to join his army.”
“Nonetheless,” Mitrokhin continues, “the presence in the Donbass of hundreds of armed pro-Russian militants remains a fact, and however much their activity appears to be a political farce, it has a military component” and has “support from within Russia.”
“Someone not only assembled these no longer young people but armed them and allowed them to pass through the Russian border. Someone provided them with the support of GRU detachments, “the presence of which was determined not only by [Ukrainian security officials] but by Russian journalists. And someone provided them with media and political support.”
The question, Mitrokhin says, is who that is.
The analyst and political activist traces the links of Boroday and Girkin to the shadowy world of the extreme right of Russian nationalism in the 1990s, a trend that enjoyed the protection and even sponsorship of some hierarchs in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, some businessmen, and some in the Russian security services.
Out of this murky community emerged groups of “convinced Orthodox Russian nationalists” who like Girkin, for example, seriously came to believe” that they could take their revenge for the defeat of the anti-Bolshevik White Armies by engaging in violent even terrorist actions.
“Post-Soviet Russia has struggled a great deal with Islamic terrorism,” Mitrokhin continues. But while doing so, it has acted as if “Orthodox terrorism does not exist in nature. In fact, however, it did” in the 1990s and does to this day as the statements and actions of Boroday and Girkin show.
Everyone should remember “the ‘White’ Orthodox volunteers in the former Yugoslavia and in Trandniestria, their participation in the October 1993 putsch in Moscow, and the shooting by these people of the American embassy in Moscow from a grenade-launcher in 1999.” That last action was the work of a group calling itself “’the Metropolitan Ioann of St. Petersburg and Ladoga Partisan Detachment.”
Finally, Mitrokhin says, there was a case on Easter Sunday 1999 that very much resembles the Donbass scenario. In Vyshny Volochka, a group led by radical Novosibirsk priest Aleksandr Sysoyev “attacked a militia station with the goal of obtaining and distributing arms to the people and thus launching a war with the authorities he hated.”
Three militiamen were killed in that attempt, Mitrokhin says while Sysoyev, despite being confined to a St. Petersburg psychiatric hospital, writes in his memoirs that before being apprehended, he had “received support from Orthodox radicals” who hoped to spirit him out of Russia to Abkhazia.
All this – and the Grani writer provides far more names and details in his article which is only summarized here – is, he insists, “only the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of the last two decades within the Russian Orthodox Church, thousands if not tens of thousands of young people have been trained in all kinds of military patriotic clubs.”
In these clubs, “they have not simply been trained to shoot Kalashnikovs and engage in hand-to-hand combat,” Mitrokhin continues. “In their consciousness have been imprinted the ideas of revanchism, nationalism and anti-humanism.”
Not everyone who has gone through this processing has been transformed in the way that the leaders would like, “but who knows where, when and how they will be called back to it?” For at least some, “the current eastern Ukraine campaign which has become in Russia a task of state importance, has untied the hands of the radicals.”
“Today,” Mitrokhin says, “these people are fighting in Ukraine, including with ethnic Russians and [genuinely] Orthodox. But tomorrow they may begin a war with ethnic Russians and [the genuinely] Orthodox in Russia” itself. After all, this has happened before although the results were horrifying for all concerned.