07/29/2015, 00.00
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The dispute between Russia and Ukraine also involves the prince who Christianised Rus

by Nina Achmatova
Yesterday marked 1,000 years since the death of Prince Vladimir, who in 988 chose Christianity for Kievan Rus. For Putin, he led to the rise of Russia as a centralised state and the source of Russia’s development as a unique country and civilisation. For Poroshenko, his choice for Christianity was European in orientation. Meanwhile in Moscow, the prince’s controversial statue could be placed in a square in front of the former KGB headquarters, a symbol of past repression.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The anniversary of the thousand years since the death of Prince Vladimir, the Orthodox saint whose conversion to Christianity in 988 heralded that of Kievan Rus, provided a backdrop to measure the gap between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Petro Poroshenko’s Ukraine.

Both leaders gave their own spin to the princely saint whose death on 28 July is commemorated as the baptism of Kievan Rus, a medieval state claimed by modern Russia, Belarus and Ukraine as their ancestor.

Before the outbreak of the conflict in the Donbass, the anniversary was celebrated many times in the Ukraine in the presence of religious and political leaders from the host nation, Russia and Belarus.

In 2013, Putin and the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill visited the Ukraine. On that occasion, the Russian leader met with the then Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014 by protests in Kyiv’s Maidan (Independence) Square.

In the recent past however, the event became much more than a religious observance, acquiring greater political relevance for both Moscow and Kyiv.

In their speeches yesterday marking the occasion, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine gave different interpretations to the prince’s role. For a start, Vladimir was baptised in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed last year by Russia.

At the grand reception in the Kremlin, Putin told his 400 guests that the prince “actually paved the way towards a strong centralized Russian state.”

For the Russian leader, "His choice (in favour of Christianity) was discerning and extremely responsible and became the source of Russia’s development as a unique country and civilization.” His actions became the “spiritual sources [that] continue to nourish the fraternal peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

For his part, Poroshenko underscored the prince’s pro-European choice. “Over a thousand years ago, Volodymyr made a truly pro-European religious and civilisational choice,” wrote Poroshenko on Facebook.

For the Ukrainian leader also used the occasion to back an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. “If Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Serbia can have an independent autocephalous Church, why shouldn’t Ukraine? Why should we be the exception to the rule?”

Ukraine is one of the most Christian countries in Europe. It belongs to the Byzantine Orthodox tradition, but is divided into three main Churches. One is loyal to Moscow (Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate); one to Kyiv (the canonically unrecognised Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate); and one to Constantinople (Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church). There is also a Greek Catholic Ukrainian Church loyal to Rome.

Poroshenko did not take part in the service at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (the famous Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv), officiated by the Metropolitan of Kyiv Onufriy, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Instead, he and his wife attended the ceremony at the Cathedral of St Volodymyr (St Vladimir), which is under the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Patriarchate.

Last Sunday, a few days before the anniversary, Putin visited Kirill at his newly restored diocesan house in Moscow, where the Orthodox primate consecrated Saint Vladimir’s chapel.

In order to mark the thousandth anniversary of the death of saintly prince, the City of Moscow commissioned a 24-metre-tall bronze statue, whose possible location has created a lot of controversy among Muscovites.

One of the sites being considered is Lubyanka Square, in front of the former KGB headquarters, now home to Russia’s main security agency, the FSB*. Under Soviet rule, the KGB was responsible, among other things, for persecuting priests, monks and ordinary Christian believers.

* FSB: Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (Federal'naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii).

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