VILNIUS (Reuters) - The spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians said on Wednesday that Russia's powerful Orthodox Church shared responsibility for the conflict in Ukraine but that he stood ready to help in Russia's postwar "spiritual regeneration".
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's comments are a rebuke for Russian Patriarch Kirill, whose full-throated blessing for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church.
Bartholomew, who in 2019 infuriated Moscow by recognising the newly established Orthodox Church of Ukraine, said Russian authorities were using the Church as an "instrument for their strategic objectives".
"The church and the state leadership in Russia cooperated in the crime of aggression and shared the responsibility for the resulting crimes, like the shocking abduction of the Ukrainian children," he told a conference held in Lithuania's parliament.
Last week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. Russia says children were moved from Ukraine for their own safety. It denies committing rights abuses in Ukraine.
"Our interreligious dialogue has to focus on ways to resist and neutralize the capacity of the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate to undermine unity and to theologically legitimize criminal behaviour," Bartholomew said.
The Russian Orthodox Church had no immediate comment.
The Ecumenical Patriarch is based in Istanbul and is viewed as "first among equals" in the Orthodox Church, which has some 260 million followers worldwide, around 100 million of them in Russia.
"The mother church of Constantinople is ready to assist its children in Ukraine and Russia once again, as it has done on multiple occasions in the past", he said. The Church still uses the ancient Greek name of Constantinople for Istanbul.
"It is our common Christian duty to use forces of dialogue to bring back our Russian brothers and sisters to our community of shared values," he said, stressing the need for "spiritual regeneration" in both Russia and Ukraine.
Putin, strongly backed by Patriarch Kirill, casts Moscow's invasion of Ukraine as a defensive pushback against what they see as an aggressive and decadent West that is bent on destroying Russia and its culture.
Ukraine says Russia is waging an unprovoked war of aggression aimed at seizing land and crushing its independence.
(Additional reporting by Filipp Lebedev; Editing by Gareth Jones)