A bishop who is known as Vladimir Putin’s ‘personal confessor’ has made an extraordinary plea for an end to the war in Ukraine after months of bloodshed.
Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov, who is known to be exceptionally close with the Russian premier, dramatically said there needs to be ‘peace by the will of God’ between the two nations.
The bishop, who is widely seen as Putin’s spiritual adviser called the war, which began with Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February, an ‘unprecedented tragedy’ and said it ‘should end with peace’.
The remarks are an extraordinary intervention by the clergyman and have sparked suggestions that Putin may be open to a deal after his humiliating defeat in Kherson.
Russian troops were forced to abandon the city late last week amid a counter-offensive by Ukrainian troops, with reports that some disguised themselves as civilians as they attempted to flee.
In what appeared to be a final act of retaliation, the despot’s troops blew up the Nova Kakhovka dam as they retreated across the Dnipro River, as well as allegedly destroying the Antonovsky Bridge, which is the other main crossing point over the river in the Kherson region.
In an interview with Rossiya 1 channel, and presumably speaking with Putin’s permission, the 64-year-old bishop admitted the conflict is beginning to weigh heavily on the minds of Russians.
Metropolitan Tikhon, seen pictured here with Vladimir Putin in 2018, is thought to be a close adviser to the Russian president
The bishop, who rose to prominence after being introduced to the Kremlin leader, has called for an end to the war in Ukraine
Who is Putin’s ‘personal confessor’ Metropolitan Tikhon?
Metropolitan Tikhon has long had a close association with Russian despot Vladimir Putin.
Born Georgiy Alexandrovich Shevkunov, the 64-year-old rose to prominence after being introduced to the president in the 1990s.
The pair were brought together by Sergei Pugachev, a Russian investor and former member of Putin’s inner circle.
Since then his influence has grown, with the clergyman often seen accompanying the Russian premier on trips abroad.
He took his monastic vows in 1991, taking the name Tikhon after Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow, a former head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
While neither of the pair have commented publicly on the nature of their relationship, the bishop is thought to be his spiritual adviser.
When asked about their relationship, he once said: ‘You can believe those rumours if you want, but they certainly are not spread by me.’
A hardline conservative, the bishop has previously spoken out in support of the annexation of Crimea, and has branded Catholics as being ‘not even Christian’ when asked about the split between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.
‘We must speak about what we wake up with, what’s in our heads all day long, and what we go to bed with – it’s Ukraine,’ he said.
‘There is no doubt we are living through an unprecedented tragedy, a fateful stage in the life of our people, our country, and Ukraine.
‘How will it end?
‘We shall pray that, of course, it should end with peace, and safely. Everyone is calling for peace now.’
The bishop added that he was of the opinion that ‘only God Almighty’ can bring the bloodshed to a close.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and Western leaders have said Russia would have to completely withdraw from all Ukrainian territory in order for the conflict to end.
‘We need peace by the will of God, to resolve this issue, battles, hatred between brothers,’ Shevkunov said.
‘Even though they don’t want to call us brothers now.
‘But we understand they are brothers, and not long ago they did call us brothers. I am certain people cannot resolve it.
‘How could it be resolved after all that has happened?
‘Only God Almighty can resolve it all, I have no doubt about it.’
He added that Putin had launched the invasion, which has been incorrectly labelled a ‘special military operation’ in Russia, because he possessed evidence that this was a necessary source of action.
He then outrageously claimed: ‘I haven’t seen a single case or episode, I haven’t seen a single compatriot with hatred towards Ukrainians.’
That claim would be hotly disputed in Ukraine, where there have been dozens of accusations of Russian forces allegedly committing war crimes against the native population.
Reports of ransacking, rape and massacres emerged from many parts of the country occupied by Kremlin troops, with multiple mass graves found after areas liberated by Ukrainian defence forces.
While the war rages on, Putin has been dealt several humiliating defeats in recent months, including the destruction of the Crimean Bridge, and most recently, the liberation of the city of Kherson.
Ukrainian troops were greeted by jubilant civilians cheering and waving flags as they arrived in the city last week.
It signalled an end to the brutal Russian occupation that had been in place since February, with phone and internet connections restored, allowing people to phone worried relatives living outside the city for the first time in months.
Russian flags were torn down outside administrative buildings and replaced with the yellow and blue of Ukraine, with videos showing tearful citizens thanking soldiers.
The Independent reports that after fleeing Kherson, which is the region’s administrative centre, Russia declared it had set up a new ‘temporary capital’.
It reports that Russian state news agency Tass said the city of Henichesk, which borders Crimea and the Sea of Azov nearly 200km away, is now the temporary capital of the region.
The Ukrainian flag was flying over Kherson city centre as locals began gathering to welcome Kyiv’s troops after Russia said it had completed its withdrawal in the early hours
Kherson was the first major city to fall to Russia’s troops and the only regional capital they have captured – spending eight months under occupation before being liberated
Pictures released by Maxar Technologies show damage to sections of the northern part of the dam and sluice gates after the explosion
The bridge is another key crossing point over the Dnipro River and acts as an entrance and exit to the key strategic city of Kherson
Antonovsky Bridge and Nova Kakhovka Dam were the two main crossing points in the Kherson region over the Dnipro River before they were destroyed by retreating Russian troops
However, how long this will be the case remains to be seen, with Zelensky saying last night that his troops would not rest until the city, along with Melitopol and Crimea, is back under Ukrainian control.
Speaking the last night, Zelensky said his troops were already in the process of making the area safe and dealing with dangers left behind by the Russians.
He said: ‘As of this evening, the defence fores have established control in more than 60 settlements of Kherson region, the police have started stabilisation measures. Stabilisation measures are also underway in Kherson.
‘Our explosive experts have a lot of work everywhere in the freed territory. Almost 2,000 explosive items have already been removed, mines, tripwires, unexploded ammunition.
Ukraine had warned that Russia could be laying a trap for its forces in Kherson, but pressed ahead rapidly with an attack overnight and is now thought to have all-but surrounded the city
A woman holds up a slogan which reads ’11/11/2022 Kherson Ukraine’ in Maidan Square, Kyiv, to celebrate the city’s liberation
Seized by Russia at the beginning of the war, the Kakhovka dam provides one of the last remaining routes over the Dnipro river in the region
‘Before fleeing from Kherson the occupiers destroyed critical infrastructure, communications, supply of water, heat, electricity. Russian forces everywhere have the same goal – maximum mockery of people. But we will restore everything, believe me.’
He added that fierce fighting in the Donetsk region was continuing to take place, but vowed his forces would not stop until all Ukrainian territory is retaken.
‘Although it takes time, but everyone already understands the result will be ours, the Ukrainian,’ he said.
‘And especially these are words of gratitude to those who endure Russian attacks in the Donetsk region – it is just hell there. There are extremely fierce battles there every day. But our units defend bravely, withstand the terrible pressure of the occupiers, maintain our defence lines. This is very important.
‘Due to strong defence there, in Donetsk region, we can conduct offensive operations in other directions. I thank all our soldiers who are defending Ukraine in these particularly tough battles.
‘Today we all feel elation together. I don’t know if there is anyone here who hasn’t watched the video of our Kherson residents greeting Ukrainian. Months of Russian occupation, months of mockery of our people, months of stories that Russia is allegedly there forever. And still there is a sea of Ukrainian flags on the streets.
‘People did not even think of giving up on Ukraine. And the world sees it now. It sees what it means when Ukrainians meet their own. It sees what the unity of Ukrainians means. And they see why we must free our entire land from the occupiers.
‘It will be the same in Henichesk and Melitopol. We will come to all our cities and villages of Donbas. We will definitely see how Ukrainian forces will be met in Crimea with Ukrainian flags which are kept there, which will be on the streets in hundreds on the day of liberation.’
The Nova Kakhovka dam’s strategic importance
The dam, which is 30 metres tall and 3.2 km long, was built in 1956 on the Dnipro river as part of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant.
It holds an 18 km3 reservoir which, the volume of water in which is about equal to the Great Salt Lake in the U.S. state of Utah.
Seized by Russia at the beginning of the war, the Kakhovka dam provides one of the last remaining routes over the Dnipro river in the region.
It supplies water to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, and to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
Moscow and Kyiv have exchanged allegations regarding damage done, or expected to be done, to the dam.
Ukraine has said that Russia has mined the dam while Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, previously said Kyiv planned to undertake missile strikes on it.
Ukrainian officials said the allegation was a sign that Moscow planned to attack the dam and blame Kyiv.
Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War concluded in late October that such a ‘false-flag attack’ could work to cover Russia’s retreat from Kherson and act as a distraction from its latest battlefield humiliation.
President Zelensky previously said that by blowing the dam, Moscow would be destroying the water supply to Crimea and thus show that Russia had accepted that it could not hold onto the peninsula.
The dam was built in 1956 on the Dnipro river as part of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant