Deshaitanization, desatanization, and the Satan's ball. The Russian religious leaders' involvement in propaganda
Russian religious leaders keep encouraging their followers to do their part in the war. Together with the authorities, they are skillfully endorsing the "holy war" narrative among Russians, speaking about one's sacred duty to go to Ukraine and murder Ukrainians.
As IMI analysts reported, Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church are fully involved in the information war against Ukrainians. Moreover, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church promises that any Russian soldier will be absolved of all sins if he dies in the "holy war".
The findings of a new IMI study indicate that not only the Russian Orthodox Church, but also other religious leaders are spreading the narratives about a "holy war" against Ukraine among Russians.
IMI's research revealed the key narratives of religion-related news in the Russian media. The monitoring sample included all articles published in 13 Russian media: Gazeta.ru, Vesti, Zvezda, KP, Sputnik, RG, RIA, RT, TASS, Izvestia, MK, Lenta, and Regnum from October 21 to November 21, 2022.
The sample was developed with the help of the Semantrum monitoring bot; the results of the bot's work were processed by IMI experts.
The study found that the Russian authorities were actively promoting the following narrative: all religions are working towards a quick Russian victory in the war. It turned out that Putin was touring among different religious events and talking about the patriotic attitude of "all four religions". However, it is unclear which religions he was referring to:
💬 "You mentioned religious organizations, but they are all with us, we have the four traditional religions, all of which are extremely patriotic. As for the Russian Orthodox Church, it has always, throughout history, been with its flock, with its people. This is the case today as well."
According to WCIOM's polls, the Russian society is seeing the rise of negative attitudes due to the Russian army's heavy losses and the lack of tangible successes in the "SMO". Therefore, an member of Putin's administration, Kornienko, decided to encourage Russians, and urged them "not to doubt that the struggle for the 'Russian world' is ongoing in the special operation area". However, his speech also referred to the fact that all religious denominations are involved in the war:
💬 "The prayers of Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Judaists ring on the front lines, but all of these prayers are for Russia, for our united family, for our shared victory."
Deshaitanization, the Russian way. How Muslims are being riled up for the SMO
"We are not taking Ukraine from anyone, it has always been part of Russia. We are taking Ukraine back and freeing its long-suffering people from LGBT and other kinds of satanic filth," said Chief Mufti of Russia, Talgat Tadzhuddin, in his speech at the "World Russian People's Council". The entire "elite of the Russian world" gathered at this event – from propagandists and religious leaders to the so-called "DPR" establishment – to "discuss" the current state of spiritual values. It looked like a "patriotic" roll call for those who still support and root for the war in Ukraine.
IMI's monitoring indicates that the Chief Mufti of Russia, Talgat Tadzhuddin, is not the main mouthpiece for war messages targeting Russian believers. Russian media publishes his speeches much less often than those of Patriarch Kirill. It is noticeable that Ramzan Kadyrov remains the main herald of war among Russia's Muslims.
The Russian media were actively distributing Kadyrov's speech where he said that the fighting is already happening in "Russia's territories" (Ed.: he meant the occupied territories of Ukraine), which means that all Muslims must join the war. In his rhetoric, another narrative is born: that of a "joint war of Christianity and Islam against Satanism."
💬“...he called the hostilities in Ukraine 'the war of Christians and Muslims against Satanism' and called on all Caucasians to take part in it, compared 'shirkers' to adherents of non-traditional forms of marriage. 'What, you want to marry one another?'"
Russian media portrays Kadyrov as an aggressive and radical leader who is persuading Muslims that killing Ukrainians is their sacred duty. The body of Kadyrov's key talking points showcases a narrative according to which the special operation in Ukraine is a fight for faith – a jihad – so a true Muslim will not look for excuses, but join the war immediately:
💬 "...This is a Jihad! And our Chechen commanders have made a decision – no defensive fighting, only attacking. We must exterminate these shaitans, wherever they are and no however well they may hide" (Chechen leader Kadyrov calls to "exterminate the shaitans" in Ukraine) .
To reinforce such a specific image of Kadyrov, the Russian media use epithets and similes that characterize Kadyrov as a "warlord" issuing a "severe ultimatum: either go queue at enlistment offices and defend your families, or shave your beards off" ("Chasing shaitans around:" political scientists analyze Kadyrov's appeal to the peoples of the Caucasus).
Such political or religious leaders also use emotionally charged vocabulary to appeal to their designated audience. For instance, Russian media argue that it is the Chechens who should go to Ukrainian territories to serve the interests of the Kremlin. However, Kadyrov's speech presents this argument as a call on Muslims to fight against "Ukrainian Satanists":
- 💬"I call on all men and women, especially Chechens and Caucasians. Where are the queues? Caucasians, I don't understand you at all," said the Chechen leader. In his opinion, the inhabitants of the Caucasus should have been the first to enlist, since this concerns them first and foremost. The leader of Chechnya called the events in Ukraine a war of Satanists against Christians and Muslims.
Kadyrov lists the numbers of Chechens who died in the war. However, he clarifies that "Chechens are taking part in a jihad, fighting the forces of Iblis," and noted that for a Muslim, it is "an honor and a great joy" to fall in a holy war.
In order to fuel the involvement of Muslims, the media even published articles wherein academics offer their conclusions as to why Caucasians are actively taking part in the war.
The so-called "academic" says that "the people who will lead our country to victory should be given not only awards, but also various privileges, perhaps even some hereditary status. I suspect that after some time, it will be people with some combat experience who will be running our country."
Highlighted: "There are different opinions on this matter. I believe that the nobility, which was the class preserving military traditions, suffered less in the Caucasus. Whereas here, in Russia, it was effectively eliminated... The nobles must go and fight, in all cases, without any additional conditions."
In addition to Kadyrov's aggressive statements about every Muslim's duty to serve in the war, the media share his claims that even the children are doing their part for a Russian victory:
What is the ROC up to again?
The usual. In late November, Patriarch Kirill turned seventy-six; Lukashenka and Putin greeted him, and the Russian media were flooded with a thousand flattering reports about the difficult task that fell to the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill. However, Kirill himself keeps saying that his main goal is to work together with the authorities, to help the Russian military in order to bring Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia back to the bosom of the one Russian Church.
Greeting the Patriarch on his birthday, Putin also gives a high assessment of Kirill's work, mentioning the "...importance of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) leader's pastoral word, which serves the consolidation of Russian society."
To put it simply, the words and narratives promoted by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church are facilitating the rhetoric of genocide against Ukrainians. It is noteworthy that Kirill, who has always been strongly integrated into Russian politics and the work of state structures, publicly claims that the Russian Orthodox Church has no political experience or sway:
- Patriarch Kirill: the ROC plays no part in politics, but takes the people's suffering to heart / RIA
Highlighted: "The Church plays no part in politics, but it does take the people's grief, the suffering of its people, to heart."
This is not the first time that the authorities and the Russian Orthodox Church make such contradictory claims. Back in late October, at the "World Russian People's Council", propagandists were saying that the Russian authorities "had full faith in the possibility of creating a better, Russian world, within earthly existence."
At the same time, the propagandists claim that the religious leaders were saying that the entire world would perish soon if everyone keeps straying away from the Russian path:
💬 "However, Kirill says, the world still has a chance: 'The future of humanity depends on the choice it makes: traditional values and the spiritual experience of many generations, reflected in the cultural matrix, or the secular universalism of the New Time, built on indulging human passions.'"
Kirill's claim that Russia should be taken as an example ("A modern state with advanced science, technology, and education, headed by a President who openly testifies to his faith.") serves as another convenient justification of the military aggression on Ukraine's territory.
Then, in late November, Patriarch Kirill forgets that the Church was supposed to deal only with spiritual matters, and again declares it is cooperating with the Russian military:
- "The Russian Orthodox Church is actively involved in education, in the work of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, in the dialogue with the domestic intelligentsia, with the world of science. As the head of the Russian Orthodox Church noted, there is, perhaps, not a single significant area of public life, where the Church is not present and "where the people are not showing appreciation and positive attitude towards it."
Nothing goes without sacralization of the war. Propagandists were reporting that a "real miracle" happened in the so-called "LPR":
- "...right as soldiers from the "Rus" battalion and the Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky battalion were praying, myrth began seeping profusely from the icon of the Virgin.
A Russian Orthodox priest advising that women give birth to more children and abandon birth control was the cherry on top of it all. Then, the priest says, the women would be less scared of their sons dying in the war in Ukraine:
- 💬 "I realize the Lord has given almost every lady a chance to give birth to many children. And if a lady fulfills this God's commandment – "be fruitful and multiply" – and abandons artificial means of terminating pregnancy, in the broadest sense, then, obviously, she will have not one baby, but more. Thus, it will not be so painful and scary for her to part with him."
However, it is clear that neither the authorities nor the Russian Orthodox priests sympathize with the families of Russian soldiers who are setting off to kill Ukrainians. For them, these soldiers are merely combat units.
What about the Judaists?
During the monitoring period, no anti-Ukrainian narratives or messages by Russian rabbis were recorded. A "patriotic" statement by the Chief Rabbi of Russia (according to KEROOR) Adolf Shayevich said that all Jews living in Russia were praying for the welfare and prosperity of the country. His speech also included a neutral expression of hope that "God will protect Russia from both internal and external enemies." However, no overtly Ukrainophobic messages from Jewish leaders were recorded.
All Russian religious teachers are promoting three common narratives. First: taking part in the war is a sacred duty of every man. Second: promises of victory and, of course, benefits for all conscripts (if they survive). Third: to die in the war means to fulfill God's will and be absolved of all sins. Murdering Ukrainians equals desatanization and deshaitanization, which is exactly what the religious leaders are calling for.
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