UK sanctions Russian Patriarch Kirill over Ukraine invasion, slams forced adoptions

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) visits the Trinity Lavra monastery with Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, in Sergeiv Posad in the Moscow region on July 18, 2014. | Reuters/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

The United Kingdom has announced a new round of sanctions in connection with Russia's war in Ukraine, including sanctions targeting Moscow Patriarch Kirill for "his support and endorsement of Putin's war."

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has "repeatedly abused his position to justify the war" in Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement last Thursday.

"Today we are targeting the enablers and perpetrators of Putin's war who have brought untold suffering to Ukraine, including the forced transfer and adoption of children," she continued.

"We will not tire of defending freedom and democracy, and keeping up the pressure on Putin, until Ukraine succeeds. Putin's allies continue to choose to turn a blind eye to alleged war crimes and support his bloody offensive."

Vladimir Legoida, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Synodal Department for the Church's Relations with Society and Mass Media, condemned the sanctions.

"Attempts to intimidate the head of the Russian Church or to force him to abandon his views are meaningless, absurd, and futile," Legoida said in a statement translated by Catholic News Agency.

"The Patriarch's family went through years of godless persecution, and he himself grew up and formed under tremendous pressure on the faith, to which he has always honorably resisted," he continued. "The Church — especially now — is the last bridge, the means of communication, which they are trying to destroy for some reason. It may be needed only by those political forces who have made escalation of conflict and alienation of peace their important goal."

According to the United Nations Office for High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 4,509 people had been killed and 5,585 had been injured since the invasion began on Feb. 24. Between 12 million to 14 million Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes.

In late March, the Orthodox Public Affairs Committee called for sanctions to be enacted against leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, claiming they are “complicit” in the Russian invasion. 

Last month, a branch of Ukraine's Orthodox Church severed ties with Russia over Putin's invasion of Ukraine, declaring its "full independence" against Russia's spiritual authorities.

The decision followed a meeting of the church leadership. In a statement, its council condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Patriarch Kirill for supporting the "special military operation" in Ukraine.

In March, the Russian Orthodox Parish of Saint Nicholas of Myra in Amsterdam announced its intention to leave the Russian Orthodox Church in opposition to Kirill's support for the invasion. The announcement was "extremely painful and difficult for all concerned" and came in response to what the parish called a "threat to the parish and the clergy."

The U.K.'s new sanctions also target Maria Lvova-Belova, the presidential commissioner for children's rights in Russia, who has been accused of overseeing the transfer of about 2,000 vulnerable children from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine and facilitating their forced adoptions in Russia.

Sergey Savostyanov, the deputy of the Moscow city Duma and member of Putin's political elite, has also been sanctioned "for publicly supporting Putin's war in Ukraine."

Also sanctioned is Alexey Isaykin, president and board Member of Volga-Dnepr Group, a Russian transport company with significant air operations contracted by the Russian government to create air bridges that carry critical goods.

Four colonels from Russia's 64th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, "a unit known to have killed, raped, and tortured civilians in Bucha," have also been sanctioned.

Sanctions also impact the so-called Salvation Committee for Peace and Order — an entity that collaborates with the Russian army to support the occupation of the Kherson Oblast.

The sanctions include freezing assets, which prevents U.K. citizens and businesses from "dealing with any funds or economic resources which are owned, held or controlled by the designated person." The sanctions also include travel bans and transport bans, making it a criminal offense for any Russian aircraft to fly over or land in the U.K. Russian ships are banned from U.K. ports. 

Two British citizens, Aiden Aslin and Sean Pinner, were sentenced to death by a court in "Donetsk People's Republic" earlier this month for fighting Russian forces in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

Truss said U.K. officials were in touch with the Ukrainian government about Aslin and Pinner. 

"These people are prisoners of war," Truss declared. "They were fighting legitimately with the Ukrainian army. What Russia has done is a complete violation of the Geneva Convention. We are taking all steps we can."

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