The Ukrainian move to form a unified Orthodox Church independent from Russia has the potential to reignite conflict between the two countries, warns the head of the Centre for Eastern Studies.
Ukraine’s international position is difficult, to say the least. It lost control over Crimea, in the country’s eastern districts rebels fight the government's forces and its economy doesn’t look good either. But the list of its problems gets even longer and it’s all in connection with Russia.
“I think the conflict over the separation of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian Orthodox Church has a high potential to destabilise relations between the two countries. It is even more important than the recent incident on the Black Sea. This decision will have long term implications for Russian efforts to dominate Ukraine,” said the head of the Centre for Eastern Studies.
In his opinion the probability for a large scale war between Russia and Ukraine remains low. For now.
“Full scale military conflict would undermine Russian hopes for normalisation of its relations with the West. It could result in more sanctions against Russia and more support to Kiev from the West. It would make anti-Russian sentiments even stronger and could pose a threat to the Nord Stream 2 project,” explained Adam Eberhardt.
But at the same time Russia cannot allow Ukraine to establish close ties with the West and escape from Russian influence. Separation of the Churches can be seen as a move towards such a scenario, which from the Russian perspective is unacceptable.
“In this situation I would expect an increase in Russian diversion activity on Ukraine. It is very likely that some provocations will take place there. The rebels’ fights with government forces in the Donbas region will probably become more intense. But, for the first time in many months we can’t exclude the possibility that large scale conflict will start,” added Mr Eberhardt.
The decision to form a unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church was made on 15th of December 2018. The process of autocephaly will most likely be accompanied by the seizure of the wealth owned by the parts of the Church that remain loyal to the Russian hierarchy. Adam Eberhardt predicts, that this will raise the tension between Russia and Ukraine to even higher levels. “We can’t exclude, that blood will be spilled and this war will last for months, possibly years.”