Ukraine, Crimea, Russia: Is This a New Cold War?

Pope PatriarchSviatoslav

Patriarch Saitsolav Shevchuk and Pope Francis say mass together. Source Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation.

Patriarch Svaitsolav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church warned us a few weeks ago.

“Humanity may be on the verge of a new Cold War,” he said in early February on the Voice of America. “It is about the future of democracy in Europe.” Referring to Russia, he warned of the danger of “aggression, violence and interference from our northern neighbor.”

I didn’t write about it then because I didn’t — and don’t — understand the situation. I gather that the original protests were sparked by disagreements over the current Ukrainian economic situation and whether to ally economically with the European Union or with Russia.

As I understand it, the Ukrainian prime minister backed out of a promise he had made to sign an economic agreement with the European Union. He was under pressure from Russia, which included threats of trade sanctions, not to sign. Also, the agreement would have required the prime minister to release one of his political rivals from prison.

Was it more complicated than that?

I think so. I am surmising that the underlying considerations — and the cause of the demonstrations — were not just pure economics, but the question of who would control the country. Was Ukraine going to become a European democracy, or would it be pulled back into economic and political servitude to the Russian bear?

Were there other factors we don’t know about?

Almost certainly.

But what has happened since seems, at least in terms of the broad strokes, painfully obvious.

Ukraine exploded with prolonged and increasingly violent protests that have resulted in the deaths of Ukrainian citizens at the hands of their own government.

Now, Russia has invaded both Ukraine and Crimea. This armed invasion can not be viewed as anything less than an act of war.

The question rises almost immediately: Is Russia also going to invade other former Soviet satellite states? Will they eventually exit Ukraine and Crimea peacefully, or is this a military takeover and permanent re-colonization?

I wish I could give you a more intelligent read on this situation, but I feel hamstrung by the simple fact that I don’t know who to believe. I am not referring here to Ukrainian and Russian news sources, but rather to our own. There are so many agendas operating in American news, and our president has lied to us so many times, that I’m more than a little chary of taking what any of them say at face value.

One thing is clear: Patriarch Shevchuk understood the situation and spoke with prescient clarity.

Orthodox Bishops Kidnapped in Syria

Kidnapped Archbishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim

Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yagizi of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped April 22 near Aleppo, Syria. Their driver was killed.

Kidnapped Archbishop Paul Yagizi

The archbishops were on a humanitarian mission to try to secure the release of hostages who had been kidnapped previously.

A Vatican spokesman said that Pope Francis is following this situation closely and with “intense prayer.” The Vatican Press Director, Fr Federico Lombardi, said:

The assault on the archbishops “and the killing of their driver, while carrying out a humanitarian mission, is a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation faced by the people of Syria and its Christian communities.”

Pope Francis, he said, is praying that, “with the commitment of all, the Syrian people will finally discover effective answers to the humanitarian tragedy and see on the horizon real hopes for peace and reconciliation.”

On April 17, Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham said that 2 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes and over 1,000 Christians have been killed and 20 churches destroyed in Syria’s conflict. 

Christians make up between 5 and 10 percent of Syria’s population.

As often happens in these situations, there is confusion about who is responsible for the kidnapping. According to an article in the Gaurdian:

The Syrian opposition coalition has accused the Assad regime of being behind the abduction of Bishops Yazigi and Ibrahim.

In a statement it said all kidnappings, particularly those against the clergy, were a blow to its attempts to build a new Syrian society based on freedom from tyranny.

It said there were indications that government was to blame for abductions after Bishop Ibrahim’s interview with the BBC when he stated that the fate of Christians in Syria was not linked to the survival of the Assad regime.

“Initial investigations conducted by the Syrian Coalition regarding the kidnapping and killing of Father Ibrahim’s bodyguard implicate the Assad regime in this crime. The Assad regime was angered by Father Ibrahim’s latest statement, in which he stated that the survival of Christians in Syria is not linked to the survival of the regime. The Free Syrian Army categorically denies any responsibility for this kidnapping.”

The statement urged Syrians to work with the Free Syrian Army to try to secure their release.

Deacon Greg Kandra has more details here

Pope Francis and the Orthodox: We are going to Be a Christian Family

This interview with the Metropolitan Tarasios Primate of the Greek Orthodox of South America. The interview sheds light on Pope Francis, as well as the gracious personality of the Primate himself.

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