Russian hackers have reportedly tried to hack the emails of senior Eastern Orthodox Church members for years, amid controversy surrounding the Ukrainian church’s possible move to break away from the Moscow Patriarchate.
The hacking was done by the Fancy Bears group, who were also implicated in the US presidential election hacking.
Reports claim the hackers have been attempting to intercept and use private information from Orthodox Christian leaders, including aides to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the hacking appears to be politically motivated and governed in part by relations between Russia and Ukraine.
The patriarch is soon expected to make a decision on whether to separate the Ukrainian church from Russia, according to the Associated Press. The move would limit the power and influence of the Moscow Patriarchate and would likely cause even more of a rift between Russia and Ukraine.
By attempting to hack the church’s leaders, Russia is believed to be hoping to stop any split between the factions and ultimately maintain its power within the church. According to Associated Press, Russia is trying to ensure Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill remains the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—something some in Ukraine do not want.
The Russian Orthodox Church said it had no information about the hacking and declined comment.