By Ruth Peacock
The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, says nobody should be shocked that Russia has invaded Ukraine. In fact, he said, the Russian Orthodox Church had encouraged President Vladimir Putin’s actions.
It was quite clear, he said, that Putin was “going all out” for the whole of Ukraine and that he did not listen to words, but strong action.
In an interview for the 2nd episode of the Religion Media Centre podcast, the bishop said: “War is appalling, violence is terrible. It should be avoided at all costs. But for example, the Baltic states need to know if we mean what we say.
“Part of the reason Putin has been able to push the envelope so far over the last couple of decades, is because and this may be contentious, but I‘m going to say it: Russians would still shed their blood for the Motherland. What would we shed our blood for? In the liberal West? You know, his line is you don’t believe in anything.”
Dr Baines, a Russian-speaker who has worked for the intelligence services, said Putin had been encouraged to keep pushing “because he knows that we ‘re not going to respond”.
In the past 20 years, Putin had not had to invade anywhere, but according to the bishop, his biggest weapon has been to destabilise the West, which he has done with disinformation and cyber-activity.
He went on: “I think Brexit is part of that. If you want to create chaos, which is what he wants to do, all you have to do is get your opponents to form a circular firing squad. With people like Trump, Brexit, the destabilisation of the EU, he’s been very successful. And he’s also seen with Salisbury and the poisonings, with [Alexei] Navalny [the jailed opposition leader], and with other people, that we have big words, but we don’t do much.”
The current sanctions announced by the British government were “feeble”, he said. And he challenged the church to put more pressure on the government to clean up “the corruption that swells through the sewers of ‘Londongrad’, the Russian cash … the Russian disinformation and Boris Johnson’s suppression of the Russia report”.
There were different views about whether to threaten a military response or use other routes. “Having worked for the intelligence services, I take a particular view on this that some things are necessary, if not desirable,” he said.
He was asked by interviewer Roger Bolton, whether the church could mediate, but he believed back channels were closed. The Russian Orthodox Church, he said, had bought into the mythology, which Putin is defending and encouraging, that Russia and Ukraine belong together. Putin has described Ukraine as a fake country.
“The roots of that judgment are religious.” In fact, he said, it was unequivocally true that the Russian Orthodox Church had encouraged Putin in his campaign. There was, he believed, collusion and corruption between the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church.
He said Britain had a moral responsibility to go out if its way to give shelter to the large number of refugees displaced by the war. “We have been party to the development of what has happened in Russia in in allowing Putin to get as far as he has, with his threats and now his actions.”
A full audio of Bishop Nick Baines’s interview with Roger Bolton available here