Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine’s government of “blatant interference” in the Orthodox Church in Ukraine after a new national institution split from Moscow’s patronage.
Speaking at a Russian Orthodox Church event attended by Patriarch Kirill in Moscow, Putin said on January 31 that the push for the new church was rooted in "the struggle for power" and provoked "animosity and intolerance."
“Russian authorities believe that any interference in the affairs of the church is absolutely unacceptable,” Putin said.
In early January, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine was granted independence, or autocephaly, ending more than 330 years of Russian religious control in Ukraine.
Russia long opposed such efforts by the Ukrainians for an independent church, which intensified after Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and began supporting separatists shortly thereafter in parts of Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“We have always respected the independence of church life, particularly in a sovereign neighboring state. Nevertheless, we reserve the right to respond and do everything possible to protect human rights, including freedom of religion," Putin said.
“It is a blatant interference in church life and those who initiated it seem to have learned from the godless people of the last century, who expelled believers from churches and prosecuted the clergy," he added.