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Russian Hackers Have Reportedly Been Targeting Orthodox Christian Leaders

The infamous Russian hacking group Fancy Bear has been trying to steal information from the top Orthodox Christian leaders, according to a new report.

Over the last several years, Russian hackers have been attempting to intercept and use private information from Orthodox Christian leaders, including aides to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Associated Press reports, following its investigation into the matter. The hacking appears to be politically motivated and governed in part by relations between Russia and Ukraine.

The patriarch is expected to make a decision soon on whether to separate the Ukrainian church from Russia, according to the AP. The move would limit the power and influence of the Moscow Patriarchate and would likely cause even more of a rift between Russia and the 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 grip on power within the church. According to the AP, Russia is trying to ensure Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill remains the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—something some in Ukraine do not want.

Fancy Bear is the name used to describe the group of Russian hackers that targeted the U.S. Democratic National Committee, U.S. defense contractors, and others. A dozen Russian agents believed to be involved in Fancy Bear were indicted by U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

According to the AP, the work against the Ecumenical Patriarch continues. And in emails obtained by the AP as part of its investigation, the hackers seem to have intimate knowledge of the patriarchs and the church’s inner workings.

In response to one email, a church official told the AP that it was created by “someone who knows us.”

The church officially declined any knowledge of hacking attempts to the AP. A Russian spokesperson said Fancy Bear is not connected in any way to the Kremlin.