07/04/2014, 00.00
RUSSIA - UKRAINE
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Controversy sparked by Patriarch Kirill visit to Ukraine for 'Baptism of Rus'

by Nina Achmatova
The religious event also has clear political significance. Mystery surrounds the alleged invitation from the (Moscow-linked) Ukrainian Synod to Kirill, a "deliberate provocation" for some.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - After Crimea's annexation in March and the conflict between the Ukrainian army and separatists in the East, it is hard to "predict what will occur this year at the celebrations for the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus (28 July)," writes Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The reference was to the uncertainty regarding a possible visit by the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow Kirill in Kyiv, a prospect that has already caused controversy.

The event celebrates the conversion to Christianity of Kyivan Rus, the medieval cradle of the modern states of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. In recent years, it has come to have both political as well as religious relevance.

To mark the 1025th anniversary in 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin accompanied Kirill to the Ukraine. On that occasion, he tried to persuade his then Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, to stop the integration process with the European Union.

In June, Vladimir Yushevich, director of the Department for Religious and Ethnic Affairs of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, said that a visit by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church would be "unwelcome", "provocative" and "political" in nature. For this reason, he called on the government to do "everything" to prevent it.

In fact, reports had been circulating about Kirill's possible visit at the invitation of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church linked to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Still, the latter denied that an invitation to the Russian primate had ever been made, calling the idea a "deliberate provocation" by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, the other Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which does not however have canonical recognition.

In the press statement, cited by Interfax, Yushevich and his remarks are slammed as "unverified and openly provocative information".

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