There’s scarcely anything more unappealing than sanctimony, or “pretended, affected or hypocritical holiness or saintliness; assumed or outward sanctity”. The word conjures up the Bishop of Southwark’s appearance in the notorious Life of Brian TV debate in 1979, oozing contempt in Tyrian purple, ostentatiously holding up his episcopal cross and making Christianity “uncool” for an entire generation. I have similar feelings about Calvin Robinson, the GB News presenter.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Christianity, or professions of faith. I came to Christianity rather later in life, after spiritual experiences and historical research convinced me of the historicity of Jesus, the truth of the resurrection and the profound value of holy communion. My favourite saint is Joseph of Cupertino.
Of course, I try not to let any of that hold me back, so perhaps I should be grateful that nowadays it’s considered quite “cool” within a certain strand of conservative politics to be a Christian – though not in the established church. Indeed, it appears that almost anything other than the Church of England would be preferable to some Christians, including the genocidal church of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
At least they have proper Christian values over in Russia, we’re told. They don’t tolerate men in women’s toilets!
Calvin Robinson’s GB News monologue on Saturday May 13th was an expression of that kind of thinking: pro-Putinism springing from a right-wing but anti-Western, anti-bourgeois attitude, all wrapped up in Corbynesque whataboutery – and with a final “Amen”. It was an intellectual Baked Alaska: cold Russian iciness within, whipped-up airy brittleness without, flambéed with the holy spirit.
Calvin firstly says that his monologue is a “call for prayer for peace”. He should have stopped there, which would have left two minutes for silent prayer. He didn’t:
The situation in the Ukraine has become even more divisive than Brexit, lockdowns and vaccine mandates. Many people who were awake to the media manipulation during the former, seem to be completely falling for the approved narrative on this one, hook, line and sinker.
The eagle-eyed will have spotted that he uses the term “the Ukraine” instead of just “Ukraine”. Like using the Russian form “Kiev” instead of “Kyiv”, it’s become a kind of virtue signal: a stunning and brave refusal to conform to totalitarian pro-Ukrainism that theoretically ought to “wind up all the right people”. But Gene Sharp it ain’t. The definite article in “the Ukraine” pre-dates the Soviet Union, but it’s been dropped in English and in Russian because it later came to imply ownership of Ukraine by Russia, as Ukraine was “the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic” before it became independent in 1991. So Calvin is hardly sticking it to the man, by sticking with Soviet nomenclature. Like wearing a nose ring to assert one’s non-conformance to cultural norms, it’s rather bovine, but most Ukrainians would probably be too polite to comment. And anyway I’m hardly one to comment either, since I’m never going to call Paris “Paree”, even if (or especially if) they get invaded and we need to help them out again.
Calvin’s first claim, that Ukraine is more divisive than Brexit is, of course, not true. Brexit was (and remains) the most divisive political issue of my lifetime by far, with Thatcher coming second. As for it being more divisive than lockdowns and vaccine mandates, I rather doubt that – after all, how many pro-Putin rallies have there been? But since apparently only 3% of Britons want Russia to win (and even they aren’t sure they care), we’re really only talking about how the war should end – whether we should support Ukraine to fight on till the last Russian soldier leaves (53%), or whether both sides should be encouraged to compromise (23%). However, those options aren’t mutually exclusive, so it’s not clear the 23% don’t or wouldn’t support Ukraine fighting to free all of its territory from its genocidal neighbour, in the event negotiations were impossible (which, at the moment, they are).
Calvin goes on to accuse (I assume) pro-Ukraine hawks like me of “falling for the approved narrative”, despite having been “awake to media manipulation” in the past. I haven’t heard any of Calvin’s non-TV sermons, but if he’s willing to insult his
congregation’s audience’s intelligence like that, then I’m guessing they’re often quite doomy, brimstone-laden affairs, with a lot of emphasis on sin and the wiles of the devil. It doesn’t seem to occur to Calvin that if a lot of Brexiteering, lockdown-sceptical, free-thinking people like me think differently to him about Ukraine, then maybe we might just have a point – especially when those who know Russia best, like Konstantin Kisin, are pretty adamant about it.
Calvin goes on to say:
It’s a dire situation, and I won’t go into the politics of it, because that’s not the point.
There follows a lot of politics, which actually is the point:
I’d just like to take a moment to highlight the double standards at play. Andrew Bridgen MP quotes a Jewish scientist who says the situation with vaccine injuries is the worst *since* the Holocaust and everyone screams antisemitism. Yet the moment anyone raises the slightest of concerns over Zelensky’s handling of the situation in the Ukraine, they’re instantly called Hitler apologists. Putin is a bad man. He is not Hitler. How is that comparison appropriate? The war in the Ukraine is not WWII and the comparisons are frankly lazy.
Andrew Bridgen was treated unfairly by his party for saying something that clearly wasn’t antisemitic. It was merely a convenient stick to beat him with for his views about the vaccines. And if people are calling Calvin a Hitler apologist, that’s unfair too. He’s a Putin apologist.
Also, comparisons to WWII are neither lazy nor even hyperbolic. The German concept of Lebensraum, or “expansionism and Völkisch nationalism”, is everywhere evident – mutatis mutandis – in Russian propaganda. The Ukrainian people are considered Untermenschen, termed khokhols, whose language is a peasant tongue, and who are destined to be ruled over by Russians (who conceive of themselves as a kind of master race). If Russia had been successful, it would have made every effort to “Russify” the country, stamping out the Ukrainian language and culture, as they tried to do before. What were those mobile crematoria for?
Those suspected of resisting Russian rule inside Russian-occupied territory (or even those who might have a cousin in the Ukrainian army) have already been tortured and murdered en masse, and many others have been raped as a weapon of war. Compared to Hitler’s rants against the Jews and Anglo-Saxon capitalists, with their supposedly deviant morals, from Putin comes constant claims of neo-Nazism, drug addiction, homosexuality and transexuality, i.e. that everyone in Ukraine is, in their view, morally and physically depraved (as well as being racially inferior). They also do what every abuser does, which is to have the occasional volte-face and say that Ukrainians are their brother Slavs, that they love them dearly; and that honestly, truly, they only want to care for them in a patrician manner, with their good, clean morals and healthy love of the outdoors. Kinda like the Nazis.
Here comes the whataboutery:
One should be able to call out the financial corruption, the neo-nazis, the shutting down of opposition parties and media, and the persecution of orthodox Christians in the Ukraine, without being painted a Putin sympathiser. One can see the wrong in Russia invading the Ukraine, whilst also seeing that the Ukraine is far from perfect itself. Nuance, people.
This is one helluva call for a prayer for peace, ironically lacking in any nuance – or charity. Let’s deal with each of these Kremlin talking-points in turn.
Firstly, “financial corruption”. Ukrainians are acutely aware that they have problems with corruption, stemming from the Soviet era. But unlike in Russia and the Russkiy mir, which is entirely built upon corruption, in Ukraine they had a revolution in order to wrest their country away from the corruption of the Russkiy mir and steer a path towards the EU and its “normal” non-corrupt politics (yeah, I know, but stay with me here). Not long after that, there was a TV show called Servant of the People, which exaggerated the corruption and rule by oligarchs in order to lampoon it, all the while chronicling the efforts of an ingénu and accidental president to tackle it. The star of the show was of course Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who later set up his own Servant of the People party and ran for president on an anti-corruption ticket, winning handily.
Since then, Zelenskyy has been doing things like removing immunity from prosecution for politicians and government officials, supporting the anti-corruption bureau (although somewhat hampered by Hunter and Joe Biden), carrying through on anti-corruption measures necessary to join the EU, and apparently being willing to sack anyone found to have their nose in the trough. There are nevertheless ongoing concerns, but despite a couple of attempts, nobody has managed to substantiate any claims of money laundering or skimming off the aid budget in any serious way.
As for neo-Nazis, the seeds of this highly-exaggerated story were initially sown amongst Western journalists when, in December 2013, a Moscow-backed agent provocateur named Dmytro Korchynsky staged a far-right riot in order to discredit the Maidan protesters, before fleeing to Russia. But the story really got traction because it then became noticeable that there were genuine far-right activists on the Maidan, who were the ones most willing to get stuck into the police. Then, when Russia invaded Crimea and the Donbas, they were the ones who were most effective on the front lines, in volunteer outfits – most famously Azov. In other words, the ethno-nationalists were the ones most willing to use violence to defend their country, and since they got a lot of media attention as a result, it gave the impression there must be vast numbers of them all over the place. In reality, that’s not the case. Allow me to quote from a previous article:
It’s worth noting here that the coalition of ‘far-right’ political parties garnered only 315,568 votes in the 2019 parliamentary elections in Ukraine (2.2% of votes cast, 0.9% of registered voters), gaining a total of one seat for the leader of Svoboda, whose paramilitary Sich Battalion has a total of 50 members. The threat from the Ukrainian far-right is not zero, but even if one doesn’t consider Putin himself to be the arch ultra-nationalist, we should bear in mind that Russia has its own far-right problems, and ironically the founder […] of the Wagner Group, which was sent to assassinate the notably-Jewish Zelenskyy, looks to have Nazi sympathies himself [including prominent Nazi tattoos].
It’s also worth noting that other Eastern European countries have some neo-Nazis too, but most sensible people realise that it’s hardly fair to cut off aid or smear countries for things they don’t much like themselves. And it should be noted that similar “far-right” smears were – and still are – made against anyone opposing mass immigration to the U.K., but it’s unfortunate that many of those same people seem willing to casually shovel that same stinking turd towards others – even those in need.
Moving on to Calvin’s claim about the “shutting down of opposition parties and media”, one needs to recognise that these are not “opposition” parties or media in the sense of being independent home-grown organisations. Rather, they are (or were) merely quasi-independent entities directly serving Moscow’s interests as part of the Gerasimov doctrine. One only needs to see how Putin reacted in 2021, when Zelenskyy closed three of these media outlets, and note the fact that the owner Viktor Medvedchuk (whose daughter’s godfather is Putin) was exchanged in a prisoner swap with Russia in 2022, to understand the underlying issues. The U.K. (and no doubt the majority of other countries) has laws pertaining to foreign governmental control of, and donations to, media and political parties – but somehow that’s never a big issue for us. (And of course there is no political or media freedom in Russia.)
Next we come to Calvin’s claim about “the persecution of orthodox Christians in the Ukraine”. I wonder if he’s referring to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)? The clue’s in the name. It’s distinct from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), and has strongly supported and even blessed the war in Ukraine – indeed Patriarch Kirill is a close ally of Putin. Interestingly, in 2018 when parishes were switching over from the Moscow Patriarchate to the OCU, Putin sent FSB agents to try to bully them out of it. Kirill himself has acknowledged links to the FSB, and it’s difficult not to view the church as the religious wing of Putin’s regime – religion having been, as Yuri Bezmenov pointed out, key to ideological subversion in the KGB’s global strategy.
As to persecution, in recent months videos have emerged of Moscow Patriarchate priests beating up a Ukrainian soldier, and another one attacking a non-Moscow Patriarchate priest who was officiating at a soldier’s funeral, to name but two incidents. It’s part of a general pattern of persecution and gaslighting of the Ukrainian people by Russian Orthodox priests, and it’d be fair to say that Moscow Patriarchate priests aren’t very popular at the moment.
Of course, there was a bit of a hoo-ha when authorities raided the Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv and arrested some priests for treason and the like. That’s probably the persecution that Calvin is referring to. But I think he means prosecution. It included putting Metropolitan Pavel Lebed under house arrest, to which he complained that he had “nowhere to spend the night”. It eventually turned out that he did, in fact, have somewhere to spend the night, but he complained that his modest little hovel was quite unsuitable, having no lights, communications, beds or refrigerator. It then turned out that this modest hovel was in fact a large luxury mansion complete with marble floors and gaudy gold… things… with its own guest house and guardhouse. He also claimed that his game leg prevented him from wearing an ankle tracker. He continues to deny all charges.
The authorities in Kyiv have now terminated the lease on the Lavra property, but some priests have holed up and have refused to leave, like it’s some kind of ceremonial bunker that, in Dmitry Peskov’s words, “confirms the correctness of the special operation [i.e., war]”. It’s a somewhat unpleasant situation, but any priests convicted of serious offences might be offered the opportunity to be exchanged in a prisoner swap with Russia, as Kyiv has done with others like Viktor Medvedchuk. One of those might be Metropolitan Iosaf, also known as Petro Huben, who was sentenced to three years in prison a few days ago, after pleading guilty to crimes relating to distributing pro-Kremlin propaganda questioning Ukraine’s sovereignty.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it in the analogous 1919 free speech case of Schenck v. United States, in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the conviction of a man for distributing pamphlets encouraging men to resist the draft:
When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.
First Amendment jurisprudence has evolved since then, but with the exception of the United States, there may be not a single nation on earth where the people, their laws and their judiciary would not greatly tend, both in theory and in practice, to restrict the expression of such ideas in time of war, as Ukraine has done. There would be nothing in the U.K. to prevent us doing the same, as we did in WWII. And while I don’t agree with the conclusions reached in Schenck, instead preferring the later jurisprudence, I could hardly expect a nation in such a situation as Ukraine – with Putin’s FSB always seeking to wrap its tentacles around the minds of its citizens – to be able to meet Calvin’s whiter-than-surplice-white standards. So as Calvin said himself: “Nuance, people.”
Calvin goes on to say:
President Donald Trump seems to be the only world leader who gets this. In his interview with CNN this week, I was taken back by how humane his response was. When the biased interviewer clearly wanted to paint him into a corner by backing a winner, Trump called for peace instead. When he was badgered to pick a side, he said[:] “I don’t think in terms of winning and losing. I think of getting it settled so we stop killing all these people. I want everybody to stop dying. They’re dying. Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying.”
Surely, that is the approach we should be taking. If you are the praying type, please pray for peace in the Ukraine, and for the lives of Ukrainians and Russians, may their leaders put an end to the bloodshed. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
This is an impressively plunging bathos, from the ridiculous to the vomit-inducing – as if peace can ever come without conditions, in a vacuum devoid of consequences, “close-bordering on the impalpable inane”. And done by Trump, in 24 hours.
Peace, yes – but on what terms? The only terms that the Ukrainian people are willing to accept are that the aggressor, Russia, leave their sovereign territory. That would be justice. And if the cost of peace on those terms would be to show mercy to Russia – dropping sanctions, let’s say – then surely goodness and mercy would follow us all the days of our life, and we would dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
Stop Press: Calvin Robinson has responded, saying: