Russian FM says independent Ukrainian Church is US-backed 'provocation' 

Moscow (AFP) –


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday said the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate's decision to recognise the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was a "provocation" backed by Washington.

He described the move as "provocation by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, undertaken with direct public support from Washington" during a media interview, according to a transcript of the exchange on the foreign ministry's website.

"Interfering in Church life is forbidden by law in Ukraine, in Russia and, I hope, in any normal state," he said.

The Holy Synod chaired by the Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul on Thursday said it had agreed to recognise the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has historically operated under Moscow's umbrella.

The move was met with fury by the Patriarch of Moscow, who would effectively lose influence over thousands of parishes if they decide to split off and join the new independent church.

Earlier Friday, the Kremlin said it would "protect the interests" of Orthodox believers in the country.

This protection would be "exclusively political and diplomatic," he said.

The Patriarchate's announcement is set to drive a further wedge between Kiev and its Soviet-era master.

Relations broke down during the Maidan uprising of 2014 followed by Moscow's annexation of Crimea and ongoing conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.