Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bartholomew's visit reopens Ukraine-Russia row

Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Bartholomew, based in Istanbul's Fener district, arrived in Ukraine on Friday for three days of festivities, deepening a longstanding dispute with Russia over the ex-Soviet state's right to its own independent church.

Top clerics from Orthodox countries converged on Ukraine on Friday for the celebrations to mark the 1,020th anniversary of the embrace of Orthodox Christianity.

However the celebrations in the region have been overshadowed by the dispute between Kyiv and Moscow which has long extended beyond religion into politics.

After mainly Orthodox Ukraine won independence from Soviet rule in 1991, a separate church was formed. But it remains unrecognized by the worldwide Orthodox Church, which sees the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church as its only representative in the country.

Before Bartholomew's arrival, Russian President Vlademir Putin asked Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to be negotiator and convince him for not attending the celebrations, Turkish media reported.

According to the reports, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov, paid a secret visit to Ankara to meet Erdogan regarding the issue last week.

Erdogan had told Zubkov he would try to convince Bartholomew, adding it had been seen hard to succeed it, the reports also said.

Pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, an ardent Orthodox believer, has tried to boost the event's profile by focusing on the visit by Bartholomew.

Bartholomew was met by Yushchenko, who sees creation of an independent church as part of Ukraine's task of building a national identify, and given top honors at Kyiv airport on Friday, a military honor guard, goose-stepping soldiers and the playing of Ukraine's national anthem.

Posters of the president alongside Bartholomew dotted Kyiv streets. Tens of thousands of guests holds a Saturday prayer meeting near the 11th century St Sofia Cathedral and a Sunday service by the Dnipro River.

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