It would be naive to believe that the Kremlin’s regime rewrote the 10 Commandments of God with the appearance of the so-called “Gerasimov doctrine”. Numerous studies and archival “leaks” only confirm that religious structures (in our case, the ROC and its affiliates) have been a tool of the KGB-FSB for a long time and are used by the Russian occupier for carrying out aggressive actions, sometimes, without involving the military component itself. Some strokes from the general picture of the construction of the “Russian world” can be traced through the history and various stages of the activity of the instrument of hybrid aggression of the Russian Federation against the rest of the world – the Imperial Palestinian Orthodox Society (IPOS).
“Peacemakers” of the regime
“Save Russia in the Holy Land” is the motto of the Palestinian Orthodox Society, established in 1882. The name “Imperial” as an honorary title was awarded to the organization in 1889. After the revolution of 1917 the society was divided into 2 parts – Russian and foreign. In the following year, the Russian branch became the “Russian Palestinian Society at the Academy of Sciences.”
With the assistance of the Russian Orthodox Church and its curators from the KGB, the historical name with the prefix “Imperial” was returned to the organization in 1992, and it clearly marked its place among the Kremlin’s external and internal tools – an intelligence, diplomatic and religious component in the formation and implementation of the political course of the Russian regime.
The IPOS declares the main goal of its activities the assistance to the ROC in its “spiritual and peacekeeping ministration” in Russia, the Middle East (in particular Israel and Palestine), the Mediterranean region and other parts of the world.
“Assistance” is expressed in “upholding the Kremlin’s position in the Middle East, the return of Russian property, the strengthening of spiritual, cultural and humanitarian ties between Russia and the peoples and countries of the Middle East” and, of course, the protection of the “fundamental rights of Christians”.
The IPOS operates quite legally, on the basis of a bilateral document between the IPOS and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the main Russian diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, is an honorary member of the IPOS. Among other famous people are the Moscow Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev, State Duma deputy Sergei Mironov, the current and former mayors of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin and Yuri Luzhkov, as well as high-ranking confessors, influential businessmen and representatives of Russian science and culture.
Since 2007, the Imperial Palestine Orthodox Society is headed by the FSB representative Sergei Stepashin. He is another representative of the “St. Petersburg clan”, who lost his post in 1995 as head of the Federal Security Service because of the terrorist attack in Budennovsk. This failure of the Russian special services did not finish his further career, but it also elevated him to the posts of the first deputy prime minister and head of the Ministry of the Interior Affairs, the prime minister of the Russian Federation. The current “honorific post” for the imperial ambitions of the Kremlin says about the withdrawal of a valuable specialist “in the shade”, than about lowering his status.
Sources in Moscow assure that Stepashin and Putin are friends with families, and Sergei Vadimovich himself is an informal leader of people from special services with “liberal views.” He is an ideal candidate for conducting hybrid operations of different orientations, from internal – for balancing the groups of special services, discrediting opponents with the help of “fight with corruption to the external – promoting the ideas of the “Russian world” in the area of the interests of the Kremlin, the creation and functioning of self-proclaimed republics”, the implementation of hybrid methods of aggression.
How IPOS defends the Kremlin’s imperial ambitions can be seen in the so-called “Syrian projects”. Under the cover of humanitarian activities, which carried out at the expense of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation and implemented with the help of the hierarchs of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and the Supreme Mufti of Syria, the IPOS promotes the advancement of Russian interests. In particular, in connection with such actions, it legitimizes the Russian military presence. Such activity opens up the doors of the Syrian Prime Minister’s reception staff, government members, religious and public figures for representatives of IPOS.
Here the favorite methods of the current Kremlin leader are already in play: bribery, blackmail, recruitment that allows influencing on the mass of situations, such as the promotion of economic, political and ideological interests of Moscow.
The IPOS has actually led to the ownership or under sponsorship of the ROC a significant number of Orthodox shrines in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jericho and Hebron, which are formally subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It will be very difficult to return influence over them to Constantinople. Lovers of “spiritual ties” grabbed the relics under the pretext of arrangements by the IPOS and the Russian Foreign Ministry with the leaders of the opposing Israel and Palestine to ensure the safety of sacred places. It’s terrible to think how the FSB will manipulate the agreements in case of unforeseen circumstances.
Against Ukrainian autocephaly
The IPOS is one of the main instruments of counteraction to obtaining autocephaly by the Ukrainian local Orthodox Church. As early as the beginning of February 2014, a coordinating group was established under the Ukrainian exarchate of the ROC (the so-called UOC-MP), which included representatives of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Rossotrudnichestvo), the Expert Council under the State Duma and IPOS.
One of the main areas of work of this group was the preparation of world public opinion for the intervention of the Russian Federation in the relations between Ukrainian churches. Kremlin propaganda confidently untwisted the stories about the total “violation of the rights of believers in Ukraine”, and the leaders of the IPOS and the ROC conducted “enlightenment” work among religious leaders. Back in 2014, Kirill Gundyaev “worked” with the heads of loyal autocephaly, and the head of the IPOS Sergei Stepashin held a thematic meeting with the Patriarch of Rome and his entourage. “During the meeting, we discussed issues related to the support of Christians in the Middle East, the need for equal activity of all faiths in Ukraine in connection with the situation there, as well as issues related to the promotion and support of Christian family values,” Stepashin said after meeting.
Later, the organization contributed to the Russian occupation of the Crimea and part of the Donbass. Its members, in particular, the representatives of the ROC and its exarchate in Ukraine, provided financial assistance to the hybrid armed formations of the aggressor – the Cossacks of the Great Don Army, neo-fascists from the Russian Orthodox Army. They also engaged in recruiting and sending mercenaries to the Donbass.
At present, the main efforts of the IPOS in the Ukrainian direction are focused on the issues of promoting the legalization of quasi-republics “dnr/lnr” and preventing the provision of autocephaly for UOC. In fact, they succeeded in this case. At the so-called Crusade of the Ukrainian exarchate of the ROC, organized by the Orthodox oligarch Novinsky at the expense of Russian taxpayers, the bulk of the crowd were organized by the representatives of the IPOS. This can be seen from the openly demonstrated symbolism of the organization on the clothes of the marchers. But by a strange coincidence, such a “mass” event as it was presented by the Russian media and “agents of influence” in the Ukrainian mass media, did not find a display in the news line of the IPOS website, and the photos published with an emblem of the organization are mercilessly cleaned now in the Internet.
By the way, there are 4 (!!!) branches of the IPOS in Ukraine: in Kiev, Odessa and in occupied Simferopol and Sevastopol.
Failure of the IPOS in Turkey
In 2017, the Imperial Palestinian Orthodox Society tried to legitimize itself in Turkey by opening the Turkish branch of the IPOS. Naturally, under the guise of good intentions – the promotion of Orthodox pilgrimage to the holy land, the development of humanitarian cooperation with the peoples of the Middle East and other assistance to refugees who rushed millions of flows from Syria after the bloody bombings by Russian military.
They tried to involve the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the game, requesting from him blessings and attending the opening ceremony of the Turkish branch of the Society. To this end, the meeting of Ecumenical Patriarch with the Russian delegation was organized. The representatives of Russian side were the head of the IPOS S.Stepashin, the RF Ambassador in Turkey A.Erkhov, the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Istanbul A.Podiolyshev, the Deputy Director of the Department for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and North Africa A.Rudakova and the head of the local branch IPOS Farooq Ogryuk.
The ideas of the followers of the “Russian world” were not supported by Bartholomew. Moreover, they were perceived as an immediate threat to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople and a direct challenge.
And for this, naturally, there were a lot of reasons. Fener knows the nature of the IPOS: “background” of the IPOS in the 19-20 centuries in undermining the authority and discrediting the KOC. Moreover, Constantinople already actively interacts with pilgrim centers, both local churches and other Christian faiths, and facilitates visits to Orthodox shrines, and also works with international charitable organizations that provide assistance to refugees. In the Ecumenical Patriarchate, they could not understand the “special role” of the IPOS controlled by Russian authorities.
As a result, IPOS office in Turkey has not received state registration for legal activities. The reasons are given above. Namely – the negative experience of the work of the Orthodox security officers in Istanbul in the past centuries, of what Fener informed the Turkish authorities.
The refusal, most likely, will only provoke the Kremlin and activate attempts to take the lead in the Orthodox world.
The Kremlin’s Crusade
Officially, the IPOS, as the instrument of conducting the hybrid aggression of the Kremlin, has 26 foreign missions. Informal and temporary missions conduct subversive activity in the entire Middle East and the North African region. Offices and representatives of the IPOS (with different status) work in Bulgaria (Varna), Germany (Darmstadt), Greece (Thessaloniki), Cyprus (Larnaca), Palestine (Bethlehem), Israel ( Jerusalem), Jordan (Amman), Latvia (Riga), Estonia (Tallinn), Syria (Damascus), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Respublika Srpska), Montenegro, Lebanon, Moldova, Malta, unrecognized Abkhazia and DMR.
Given the methods of work and curators, all IPOS departments can be called resident agencies, because the Imperial Palestinian Orthodox Society has been transformed into an elite closed military and religious order for long time ago with increasing ambitions to expand its role in the implementation of the diplomatic, propaganda and religious policies of the Kremlin. A powerful FSB-religious background allows them to easily carry out operations to cover intelligence activities, coordinate reconnaissance and sabotage measures, influence on the population and government of interesting regions in Russia, and to pursue a consistent policy of the regime to fool the Russian population also. But about this we will write next time.
Summarizing all mentioned above, it can be noted that the working methods of the FSB clan from St. Petersburg are sharp and effective. But the world is changing and learns to react and resist to the hybrid methods of aggression. An example is the expulsion from Greece of two Russian diplomats connected with the IPOS, accused of interfering in the internal affairs of Greece and in actions directed against the national security of the country, in particular, in gathering information and attempting to bribe Greek officials. That is, in all that we wrote about the IPOS above …