09/24/2022, 17.28
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Russia's Last Crusade

by Stefano Caprio

The "religion of fire" has devastated and destroyed hundreds of churches, while Kirill has announced a new plan to restore buildings destroyed by bombs, he prayed for.


By announcing mobilisation on Wednesday, seven months after its invasion of Ukraine, Russia gave up pretending that it was conducting a “special military operation”. In doing so, it launched a last-ditch effort to counter its latest battlefield losses, giving up land it had seized in the previous months.

By holding sham referenda in Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine, Russian leaders will make it possible to claim that they were “defending the homeland” instead of engaging in a grotesque "denazification" campaign of the disputed provinces.

In reality, the war should be called a "crusade", given the spiritual and "metaphysical" character attributed to it by the Putin regime and the Russian Orthodox under Patriarch Kirill in order to impose their dominion over the sacred lands of Crimea, the Don region and the Black Sea coast, which the Byzantine missionaries crossed to reach in Russia at the end of the first millennium.

On the day of the new call to arms, preaching from the female monastery of the Sacred Conception in Moscow, the patriarch made a new appeal to "restore the unity of the Russian Church, and not consider Ukrainians as enemies.”

“Today our homeland, historic Rus', is going through the toughest of trials,” As Kirill said. “We know how our Ukrainian brothers are suffering, while others try to 'reformat' them and turn them against Russia, but in our hearts, there must be no room for such sentiments. Let us ask the Lord to give us the necessary courage and strengthen the sentiments of fraternity, which are the true bond of peace for the immense expanses of Rus’.”

In reality, following mobilisation, courage seems to be in short supply among Russian men aged 20 to 50 years set to be drafted, up to 300,000 people apparently, or even a million, but exact figures are hard to come by.

If anything, street protests against the draught takes guts, especially after thousands were arrested and many others panic and desperately try to flee abroad, leaving behind their whole life.

Turning to reservists seems to be a big bluff, a desperate threat without credibility. Russia today does not have the means nor the organisational structures to train for war people who have no desire to fight. Conservatively, it would take at least two or three months to train the troops, and by then it might not be possible to deploy them.

Until now, most frontline soldiers come from Russia’s Asian regions and the Caucasus, mostly poor men drawn by generous rewards and guaranteed pensions, flesh for a meat grinder army already running out of steam, with deaths in the tens of thousands, mostly unknown to the State.

Russia’s contradictory war strategy and the emphasis on religious motivations are really a step back, to the 11th century and the Crusades and the reconquest of the Holy Land, which have largely shaped the world order that still exists today, between Europe and the Mediterranean.

Calls for holy war echo the fiery preaching of the First Crusade and Pope Urban II’s homily at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The march of the multitudes of armed pilgrims of Western Christianity ended in 1099 with the fall of Jerusalem, which Putin dreams of doing with Kyiv.

In the end, the motley crew of troops from various principalities and city states failed to defend their conquests, shattered by Saladin, the Xi Jinping of the Middle Ages, destroying the dreams of a Christian Kingdom.

If not this, Putin’s war can be seen as a belated response to the greatest offence that the Latins inflicted upon the Orthodox world, in the Fourth Crusade, when they seized Byzantium and set up the Latin Empire of Constantinople, which lasted from 1204 to 1261.

Pope Innocent III, who was pontiff during the times of Saint Francis, called for action to take back the lands seized by Muslims, but the various groups of crusaders, inspired by Venetian merchants, committed the worse act of intra-Christian feud, namely the looting of Constantinople that made the Greeks say, “better the Turkish turban than the papal tiara”.

The ninth and last Crusade took place at the end of the 13th century, after the martyrdom of Saint Louis IX of France, the last medieval monarch to have truly believed in the need to free the Holy Land to guarantee the future of the Christian faith. Edward I of England arrived in Tunis too late to save him, which is what will probably happen to Putin's reservists, thrown into battle to defend the Donbass.

Louis' brother, Charles of Anjou, headed to Acre to take advantage of the defeat to gain personal advantage, as does today's Sultan, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, apparently eager, comfortable with the climate of the Crusades, to play both Christian and Muslim.

The last Crusade gained only an 11-year truce, with no more chivalric adventures to follow; indeed, the Templars and the Hospitallers pulled back to the islands of the Mediterranean and the countries of Europe, where other schisms and cruelties split nominally Christian realms.

Like the Templars, the Teutonic Knights tried to convert Baltic pagans and the Orthodox of Rus’ to Catholicism, but were stopped by a young leader, Saint Alexander Nevsky, who inspires today’s post-Soviet Russians. And the millennial circle closes.

What remains is the apocalyptic fear of nuclear war, which Putin and his drunken henchmen mention every time their armies fail; last time, he almost comically admitted that “this is not a bluff", evidently referring to previous claims that few had believed.

The Crusades rhetoric goes too, inaugurated by Patriarch Kirill during the first days of the war and almost unchanged to this day. “Holy Rus’ justifies Putin's Russkiy Mir, Russian world, a new, militant Christianity.

The "religion of fire" has devastated and destroyed hundreds of churches, and Kirill himself has announced a new program to restore the buildings that collapsed under the bombs he himself prayed for.

According to data by tracking sites, the Orthodox churches that suffered the most destruction in Ukraine belong to the Moscow Patriarchate. In the Kyiv region, 27 buildings of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC, formerly subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate) and seven of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) have also been destroyed. Overall, some almost 200 churches, including Catholic and Protestant, must be rebuilt after the war.

Kirill's wars echo more the schisms of later centuries between various European Churches than the Crusades against the infidels. It would be too much to expect the Moscow Patriarchate  to take a pacifist turn, since it inseparably operates in a symbiotic relationship with the Kremlin, despite the appeals of Pope Francis and the World Council of Churches.

New army recruits now not only have  the patriarch’s blessing, but also the canonical duty to rise up in defence of the one faith. However, instead of the Antichrist to be fought in Ukraine and the West, what is needed is a new version of the medieval Antichrist excommunicated by the pope, Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, who eventually led the Sixth Crusade, the only peaceful crusade, when Saint Francis died.

Avoiding fighting and following diplomatic routes, the much maligned Puer Apuliae finally became the Stupor Mundi, gaining the greatest territorial conquests of all the wars in the Holy Land, almost becoming the new king of Jerusalem guaranteeing forever pilgrims’ access to sacred sites.

The priest-hating king, who wrote about theology in falconry manuals, could be a model for popes and patriarchs, presidents and generals, new tsars and old kings, amid the confusion of an unreadable Third World War.

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