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The Orthodox world’s spiritual leader Barthomew I has called for a ceasefire in Ukraine while praising the nation’s “powerful resistance” against invading Russian forces.

Making a rare political intervention during a mass attended by the visiting Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the ecumenical patriarch appealed for the violence and bloodshed to end.

Orthodox Christianity is the main religion in Ukraine, split between various strands.

“We are watching the drama of the Ukrainian people and admire its powerful resistance against the invader,” Bartholomew said in unscripted comments from the pulpit. “We appeal for an immediate ceasefire … the war has to end. The United Nations charter explicitly forbids the use of violence in international relations and binds all the organisation’s members to resolve their differences with peaceful means … an unjust war is happening in the heart of Europe, human blood is being shed, children and women are being killed and towns and villages destroyed. Our thoughts are with our brothers.”

He then thanked Mitsotakis for the assistance Athens has sent to Ukraine which incudes shipments of Kalashnikov rifles and other weapons.

This is not the first time that Bartholomew has sided with Ukraine.

As head of eastern Orthodox Christians, the spiritual leader took the unprecedented step in early 2019 of officially recognising the Orthodox church of Ukraine, granting it the status of autocephaly or self-governorship within the communion of Orthodox churches.

The move, which rendered it independent from the Russian Orthodox Church, caused uproar in Moscow, which subsequently broke ties with the ecumenical patriarchate.

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Western intelligence believes that Vladimir Putin’s personality has changed dramatically over the past five years, with the 69-year-old Russian leader displaying increasing and obvious paranoia about his health.

But while the shift in character is marked, intelligence sources say, there is an underlying mystery about what could be the cause – with possible explanations ranging from cancer, Parkinson’s disease, the onset of dementia or the use of steroids for treatment of another condition.

“The big tell that Putin is concerned about his health is that he is so obviously worried about coronavirus,” an intelligence source said, citing his insistence on sitting at a distance from foreign leaders such as the French president, Emmanuel Macron, or some of his own key figures, such as defence minister Sergei Shoigu.

He only met China’s president, Xi Jinping, last month after elaborate coronavirus precautions were taken on both sides.

“Coverage of Russia is pretty good from both a human and signals intelligence perspective,” a western source added. “But there is a grey spot when it comes to Putin’s personal health. What we know is that there has been an identifiable change in his decision making in the past five years.”

Speculation about Putin’s long-term health is widespread amongst Russia experts in the West’s intelligence agencies.

Similar claims were reported in the Mail on Sunday over the weekend, but ultimately there is no firm evidence to back up any of the theories circulating. Putin is believed to have had three Covid vaccine treatments. One western source said he had taken the Pfizer vaccine, although the president himself said in June last year that he had received Russian Sputnik jabs.


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