The historically Orthodox lands of modern-day Ukraine have been the realm of spiritual competition since the Catholic Poles and Lithuanians began to colonize them in the 14th century. As part of its scheme for souls, the Pope artificially created the so-called “Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church” or Uniate Church. Greek Catholics are essentially very similar to their Orthodox brothers and sisters with the important exception that they follow the Pope. This makes them a deceptive tool of the Pope for self-interested use on Orthodox territory. Against this historical backdrop and the current West-Russia rivalry over Ukraine, Ukrainian junta leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk visited Pope Francis on 26 April. He offered limitless proselytization opportunities for Catholic expansion into Ukraine (possibly including the closure of Orthodox churches), but due to a few strategic factors, the Pope turned down this proposal. Even so, an examination into this attempt at fostering Catholic subversion in Orthodox Ukraine is necessary in order to underline the behind-the-scenes forces conspiring for control over the country.
Such a contemporary examination first and foremost needs to deal with fellow coup leaders Yatsenyuk and Turchynov and their religious beliefs. Unlike the majority of their Orthodox compatriots, these two are Scientologists and Baptists, respectively. This has important implications for Ukrainian identity, since the two junta masters do not represent the traditional faith of the people they are dominating. This also has strong implications for the large Russian minority in the country which ascribes to Orthodoxy. Yatsenyuk and Turchynov are more likely to continue their repression against anything that is associated with Russia and Russians, including their religion, since they have no identification with the Orthodox faith that is a prime characteristic of Russian civilization. Yatsenyuk’s “religion” (if it can even be called that) of Scientology marks him as an ideological extremist in the Russian Federation, since its cult-like works were banned as extremist in 2012. The Moscow Regional Court at the time declared that the texts “foster the creation of an isolated social group, whose members are taught to precisely carry out commands, many of which are aimed at confronting the outside world”.
This must always be kept in mind when analyzing Yatsenyuk and his actions. The court was spot-on when it declared that Scientologists are “taught to precisely carry out commands” because this perfectly defines Yatsenyuk. One must simply recall the Nuland scandal where the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe confided to the US’ Ukrainian Ambassador that Yatsenyuk was the puppet of choice to lead in a post-Yanukovich Ukraine. Since the coup, Yatsenyuk has stayed true to his Scientologist principles of carrying out commands by obediently following Vice President Joe Biden and CIA Chief John Brennan’s dictates. His compliancy to powerful outside interests is what motivated him to travel to the Vatican to find yet another patron in the Pope.
The public explanation for Yatsenyuk’s Vatican visit was to attend the canonization of two former popes as Catholic saints, however, the real purpose was to secure a private meeting with Pope Francis. The entire event was scarcely reported in any media outlets at well, suggesting that it was meant to be kept relatively confidential. The brief meeting took place for only 18 minutes, during which the International Catholic News Weekly reports that Yatseniuk and Francis “discussed the specific role that religious organisations could play in fostering mutual respect and harmony”, with the Vatican making an official statement that “Mention was made of possible further initiatives by the international community in this regard.” As a symbolic gesture of where his true allegiances lie, Yatsenyuk ended his visit by attending service at a Uniate Church. He left the Vatican before the canonization itself under the false auspices that he needed to manage the crisis in Eastern Ukraine. This was obviously an excuse, further underlining that the whole purpose of his visit was to meet with Francis and nothing more.
There is much more significance to Yatsenyuk’s visit than meets the eye at first glance, and the International Catholic News Weekly’s description of the event and the Vatican’s official statement provide a glimpse into what really went on behind closed doors. What had occurred is that Yatsenyuk offered the Pope unhindered proselytization access to Ukraine in exchange for political and moral support. Additionally, considering that there are numerous Catholic Churches (especially in Western Ukraine) that were confiscated during the communist period, there is also the probability that he offered to return the lands to Rome in exchange for financial assistance. After all, the restitution of Catholic (and other Christian) property in Ukraine has been an unresolved issue for some time, although some progress was legally being made in the past few years. It is both feasible and probable that Yatsenyuk would unilaterally move to reach a deal with the Pope. Such a deal would also encompass the removal of Orthodox parishes, which would be the religious variant of the junta’s recent lustration initiatives.
Francis thankfully rejected Yatsenyuk’s tempting proposals, although it cannot be said that he did so out of selfless reasons. The Pope clearly understands that the Catholic Church cannot realistically compete with the Orthodox one on the latter’s home turf. Doing so would dramatically endanger the delicate relations between the Pope and Moscow’s Patriarchy, and such a gambit would only be attempted if the odds of success were extraordinarily increased. This is obviously not the case under the “Yatsenyuk Yoke” that is occupying the country. He and his regime represent almost no one in Ukraine, and there is no telling whether Yatsenyuk will be imprisoned in the Hague in the next few months or whether Ukraine as it is understood as today will even exist at all as a result of his junta’s disastrous policies. Thus, Francis had no reason to take Yatsenyuk seriously, since the probable costs were exceedingly higher than the near-impossible gains that would have resulted from this dastardly deal.
The odd episode of Yatsenyuk’s voyage to the Vatican is a firm indication of the regime’s desperation for support. Knowing that his grip over the country is rapidly slipping, he wanted to secure religious and moral backing for his cronies’ occupation. In some sense, he may have even been motivated by Pope John Paul II, whose explicit support for anti-Soviet activity in Poland gave “the support of God” to those opposed to Moscow. Yatsenyuk may have deliriously envisioned a similar relationship evolving between him and Francis as had been the case with Walesa and John Paul II. But communist-era Poland in the height of the Cold War is not the same as Ukraine in the post-unipolar present, and Solidarity leader Walesa is not the same as the neo Nazi-allied coup leaders. Although Francis pragmatically calculated that it would be insanity to repeat John Paul II’s subversive actions under the current conditions, it is not to say that wouldn’t have if the “prize justified the risk” and the regime’s hold on power were more entrenched.
Andrew Korybko is the American Master’s Degree student at the Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO).