RUSSIA: EU sanctions against a military training company created by a high-level Orthodox cleric
An EU’s pinprick in the Russian military-Orthodox complex. Patriarch Kirill and the whole Russian Orthodox Church should be under EU sanctions, according to Human Rights Without Frontiers.
By Dr Evgeniia Gidulianova with Willy Fautré
HRWF (29.01.2024) – A military institution called “Andrew’s Cross” which was created by a high-level cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) for training volunteers has come under the last package of EU sanctions. (*)
On 18 December 2023, the Council of the European Union imposed restrictive measures on the SPAS TV Channel of the Russian Orthodox Church and Tsargrad TV Channel (Царьград ТВ) belonging to and financed by the so-called Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. They were included in the 12th Package of Sanctions targeting an additional group of 61 individuals and 86 entities in Russia responsible for actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine.
“Bloknot” was the first Russian media outlet to report on 10 November 2022 on the creation of the Andrew’s Cross in St. Petersburg under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church. The publication pointed out that the founders of the Andrew’s Cross were representatives of the community of the Kronstadt Naval St. Nicholas Cathedral. The Andrew’s Cross, in turn, is depicted on the flag of the Russian Navy.
Who is behind the Orthodox “Andrew’s Cross”?
The founders and main public figures of the Andrew’s Cross are Russian billionaire Vladimir Khilchenko and the rector of the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral, Archimandrite Alexy. The activities of the organization are supervised by a military man and former policeman, Sergei Nosov.
Billionaire Volodymyr Khilchenko is the coordinating director of the Andrew’s Cross, which was created as a military training center against the backdrop of the announcement of “a partial mobilization” in autumn 2022 with the blessing of the Rector of the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral, Father Alexy (Alexander Ganzhin) for volunteers wanting to go to war.
Archimandrite Alexy (secular name Alexander Ganzhin) is a clergyman of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was born in 1960 in the Perm oblast. In 1979-1981 he served in the Soviet Army and in 1982-1989 in the bodies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Main Department of Internal Affairs of the Leningrad City Executive Committee. In 1989, he became a priest of the St. Petersburg Diocese.
He is the rector of the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (Kronstadt) and cumulates several high level positions in institutions of the Orthodox Church in connection with the army: deputy chairman of the Synodal Department for Cooperation with the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies, chairman of the Department for Cooperation with the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies, dean of the Military Deanery District Diocese of St. Petersburg of the Moscow Patriarchate, etc.
Sergei Nosov is a military and former policeman. He was previously known as the chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of the All-Russian Trade Union of Military Personnel (OPSV). He used to work in the criminal investigation department but was caught taking a bribe and was sentenced to one year in prison. He is now also the curator of the Andrew’s Cross.
What is the St. Andrew’s Cross?
Archimandrite Alexy (Alexander Ganjin) said in his interview with Fontanka that Andrew’s Cross is not a private military company but it is a centre for basic military training of people wanting to volunteer for the Special Military Operation. A month-long preparation for everyone. They apply at the military registration and enlistment office and go as volunteers in their own specialty, with his blessing. “Several million dollars worth of aid were sent directly to the district headquarters,” says Archimandrite Alexy. The site for military training is located in the Church of St. Spyridon of Trimythous (St. Petersburg), he said.
Vladimir Khilchenko‘s account in an interview with the Russian Institute of Religion and Politics differs somewhat from the story of Archimandrite Alexy. He calls the “Andrew’s Cross ” a center of tactical training. Former special forces soldiers take part in the project, he said. The concept of the organization is to survive in the difficult conditions of warfare and to prepare people for volunteer units, as well as for participation in various Private Military Companies. Theoretical classes are held at the Kirov Palace of Culture on Vasilievsky Island [in St. Petersburg] and unlike what Archimandrite Alexy said, the place of practical training is Kronstadt, where there’s a shooting range, Khilchenko said. The training is financed both by private donations and with the personal money of the participants.
Sergei Nosov gave similar information to Khilchenko in his interview with Bumaga Publishing House, adding that it was thanks to the help of the rector of the Naval Cathedral, Father Alexy [Archimandrite Alexy], that a platform for practical training was found in Kronstadt, on the territory of a former military unit. The training consists of theoretical and practical exercises, such as simulating real combat operations, fighting in urban areas, shooting or mining buildings.
Left:Vladimir Khilchenko, 2018. Photo: Facebook
Center: Archimandrite Alexy. Photo: Official website of the Moscow Patriarchate
Right: Sergey Nosov, 2020. Photo: Trade Union of Military Personnel of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
The Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill and the army
On 16 July 1995, the Synodal Department for Cooperation with the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies, of which Archimandrite Alexy (Alexander Ganzhin) is the vice-chairman, was established by the decision of the Holy Synod. Previously, the interaction with law enforcement agencies was carried out by the Department of External Church Relations. The first chairman of the newly formed Department was Bishop Savva of Krasnogorsk.
The Russian Orthodox Church has a military clergy whose statute was adopted at a session of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on 25-26 December 2013. Military priests in Russia have nothing to do with the Western concept of chaplains as it is said in their regulations: “Recognizing war as evil, the Church blesses its children to participate in hostilities when it comes to protecting their neighbors and their Fatherland. The Church has always respected the soldiers who did their duty at the cost of their own lives and health.”
This shows to what extent the Russian Orthodox Church is integrated in the army as an active instrument of the Kremlin.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (Vladimir Gundyaev), has been preaching the doctrine of the “Russian World” and publicly blessing the actions of the Russian army and the Kremlin. He has repeatedly denied war crimes by the Russian army and was also one of the first to support Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. For Patriarch Kirill, Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine is a “holy war.” He is an instrument of Russian propaganda and provides financial support for the occupation of Ukraine.
In 2022, personal sanctions against Patriarch Kirill were adopted by Ukraine, Great Britain, and Canada. The EU tried to put him under sanctions but failed because President of Hungary Viktor Orban vetoed the imposition of EU sanctions on him, a consensus being the rule for such a measure.
In July 2022, the French association CAP Liberté de Conscience and Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels), which filed a documented complaint against Patriarch Kirill with the ICC (International Criminal Court), made a joint statement at the 50th Session of the UN Human Rights Council to share their deep concerns about the grave responsibility of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in the outbreak and extension of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The possible prosecution of Patriarch Kirill falls within Article 25 of the Rome Statute which provides that “a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court if that person for the purpose of facilitating the commission of such a crime, aids, abets or otherwise assists in its commission or its attempted commission.”
The Security Service of Ukraine is conducting a criminal investigation against Patriarch Kirill. According to the investigation, he is a member of the inner circle of the top military and political leadership of Russia. To disseminate propaganda, he massively uses the religious communities of the Russian Orthodox Church under his control on the territory of the Russian Federation, as well as representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/ Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP).
Since the beginning of the full-scale military invasion, Ukraine has adopted several packages of sanctions against Russian priests.
On 23 January 2023, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky put sanctions on 22 figures of the Russian Orthodox Church, “who, under the guise of spirituality, support terror and genocidal policies.”
Archimandrite Alexy (Alexander Ganzhin), deputy chairman of the Synodal Department of the Russian Orthodox Church for Cooperation with the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies and one of the founders of the “Andrew’s Cross”, was also included in this sanctions list.
This EU sanction is just a pinprick in the military-Orthodox complex of Russia as Andrew’s Cross and Orthodox Archimendrite Alexy are just piny pieces of the Kreml’s war machine. Patriarch Kirill and the whole Russian Orthodox Church should be under EU sanctions.
(*) Footnote: The EU calls the “Andrew’s Cross” a private military company (PMC) but it could not be described as a military company as it is rather a military training institution for volunteers who will sign afterwards a contract with the Ministry of Defence and be dispatched to military units. It cannot really be said to be private as it officially works both with the Orthodox Church and the Russian Army.
Photo: The center “Andrew’s Cross” was organized with the blessing of Archimandrite Alexy, one of its founders.