Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired a top national security official who recently drew widespread condemnation for calling the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement in Ukraine a supremacist cult, Russian media reported.
No official reason was given for the Friday dismissal of the assistant secretary of the Russian Security Council Aleksey Pavlov. A spokesperson for the Security Council told Russia’s TASS news agency that Pavlov was moving to another position but also gave no details.
However, the reports noted the article he wrote in October in which he called for the “desatanization” of Ukraine, claiming that the country is home to hundreds of neo-pagan cults.
Pavlov included in his list of cults the Chabad-Lubavitch sect, which began in the 18th century in Russia and is today a major religious force throughout the former Soviet Union and in Russia and Ukraine in particular.
“The main principle of the Lubavitch Hasidim is the superiority of the supporters of the sect over all nations and peoples,” Pavlov wrote.
Though Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is largely considered in geopolitical terms, the war has also had religious elements as well, with the head of the Russian church firmly backing the war and referring to it as a sort of crusade.
In his article, Pavlov appeared to be channeling this religious view of the conflict. “I believe that with the continuation of the special military operation, it becomes more and more urgent to carry out the desatanization of Ukraine,” he wrote.
Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine in February, the Chabad movement in Russia has attempted to keep itself out of the crosshairs on all sides. Its rabbis in Russia have denounced the war and the bloodshed, calling for it to end, but have also refrained from blaming Moscow for it, leaving the issue of culpability for the conflict vague.
Members of the organization have also not-so-subtly criticized the former chief rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, who is not a member of the movement, for his decision to leave Russia and his community in order to more freely criticize the war and Putin.
In response to the article, Russia’s chief rabbi, who is himself a Lubavitcher, and was once considered close to Putin, penned an open letter to Russian authorities, calling for them to condemn Pavlov’s remarks.
In response to this wave of criticism against Pavlov, his superior, Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev issued a follow-up statement calling his assistant’s comments about Chabad false.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report