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SBU: Russian Orthodox Church runs private military companies to train fighters for Ukraine deployment

by Martin Fornusek October 19, 2023 2:36 PM 2 min read
Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov (L) and Patriarch Kirill (R) attend the opening ceremony of the monument to Prince Alexander Nevsky on Sep. 11, 2021. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
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The Kremlin-linked Russian Orthodox Church is building and running private military companies (PMC), which recruit and train fighters for deployment in Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reported on Oct. 19.

The Church receives funding for these activities from financial and industrial groups close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the SBU said. These funds are reportedly donated as "charitable contributions" for "construction of churches."

One example of a church-run PMC named by the SBU is the St. Andrew's Cross organization based in the Kronstadt Naval Cathedral in northwestern Russia.

The Russian news outlet Bloknot reported on the St. Andrew's Cross's activities last year, calling it "the first PMC under the Russian Orthodox Church." The group was reportedly set up in 2017 to provide military training for other mercenary companies' recruits.

The cathedral's abbot Alexey denied in a comment for Russian media that the St. Andrew's Cross would be a mercenary company, saying it only teaches skills to youth and adults for future military service.

According to the SBU, the Kronstadt-based PMC is recruiting local parishioners, primarily those with military experience, and providing them with training for combat deployment in Ukraine.

The instructions are carried out on the cathedral's grounds or in specialized training facilities in cooperation with Russian special services, the SBU said.

Despite being illegal in Russia, PMCs are widely used by the Kremlin for war efforts in Ukraine and to promote Russian interests in other regions of the world, such as Africa.

The most notorious group is the Wagner Company, set up by now-deceased Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin. Following their deployment on Ukraine's eastern front, Wagner fighters launched a short-lived uprising against the Russian government in June.

Prigozhin’s death latest in a series of unsolved murders in Putin’s Russia. What’s next?
The death of an opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin is not something new in history. More than 20 critics and opponents of Putin have been murdered or died in suspicious circumstances since 2000. However, the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and o…
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