Tuesday, January 13, 2015
By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press Posted: Oct 06, 2014 7:32 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 06, 2014 7:55 AM ET
Andrew Bennett's one-week, fact-finding mission begins Monday in Kyiv, where he meets religious leaders and government officials, among others.
He is also expected to announce a package of Canadian government assistance aimed at promoting religious freedom, democratic development and inter-faith tolerance.
Bennett says the measures will be aimed at mitigating the negative effect of Putin, whom he accused of systematically targeting Christian groups in eastern
Ukraine, where pro-Russian militias are active,
as well as Muslim Tatars in Crimea, which unilaterally annexed in
Russian forces have kidnapped priests, detained nuns, firebombed churches and intimidated worshippers, he says.
The Russian forces are targeting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, which Bennett sees as part of a plan by Putin to prop up the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
"It's definitely part of a calculated plan," Bennett said in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press.
"It's a narrative drawn from the 19th century, not the Soviet period. This is a narrative building upon Russian nationalism that is rooted in Orthodoxy.
we're seeing again the using of these older constructs within Russian political
society and Russian history to advance Russian aims." Russia
Bennett said he's hearing reports that Russians want all religious communities in Crimea to re-register as religious communities, as they do in
While that would target Muslim Tartars in Crimea, Bennett said it could be used against Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox groups, particularly the Kyivan Patriarchate in eastern
"This has been used in the past as an administrative form of persecution."
The Moscow Patriarchate views its Kyivan counterpart as a breakaway sect, said Bennett.
"As it has happened through a lot of its history, the Russian Orthodox Church is allowing itself to be co-opted and is being co-opted by the state, the Russians, to advance
Bennett's office has a modest annual budget of $4.25 million for projects that support religious freedom.
Bennett won't say how much of that budget he plans to earmark to
he announces some specific projects in the coming days. Ukraine
He said he wants to meet some of the people who will benefit from the Canadian support before making his announcement.
The projects will be aimed at "broadening religious dialogue between the different religious communities in the country, working with youth to make the links around religious freedom, democratic development, the role of religion and religious communities within society."
There's been a historic lack of dialogue within
wants to help address that, he said. Canada
Bennett said he won't travel to Crimea or eastern
because it is too
The Harper government has particularly vocal in its criticism of Putin as being personally responsible for provoking unrest on Ukrainian soil.
Bennett also took Putin to task for positioning himself as a defender of religious freedom.
In the Middle East, Putin sees himself and
as defenders of Orthodox Christians in Syria
and has spoken out loudly against their persecution, said Bennett. Iraq
"We all need to speak out," he said.
"But it's very disingenuous when he does it on one hand in the Middle East and through his proxies they're persecuting their fellow Christians in
With some 1.2 million Canadians of Ukraine descent living here,
top foreign policy priority for the Harper government. Ukraine
As he recently welcomed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to
, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said
the two peoples are like "family" and that their bond transcends
simple foreign policy interests. Ottawa
Posted by LightOnTheDarkness at 8:39 PM