EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): In the article (below) published by the Heritage Foundation and titled “How Putin Uses Russian Orthodoxy to Grow His Empire” a series of misrepresentations are stated, laced with the usual American deficiencies in foreign policy analysis: A complete and total lack of understanding of two essential concepts (essential for the rest of the world), “tradition” and “history”.
A major deficiency throughout the article is the analysis of Putin-Russia-Orthodoxy as if they are self-contained, functioning in a vacuum. The article starts in the right way admitting that Putin assumed power over 20 years ago as Russia was reeling after 70 years of atheism and communism and it keeps analyzing the intentional use of Orthodoxy by Putin BUT it ignores: 1) The well-documented fact that the first who used Orthodoxy for political purposes was not Putin but the White House and the State Dept. from the time of the installation of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1948 through the recent declaration of Ukrainian Autocephaly from Pat. Bartholomew. 2) When Putin assumed power he found Russia full of protestant/Evangelist preachers, including Billy Graham! These preachers spoke to the deeply faithful Russian people as if they were novices to Christianity, a 1,000-year-old tradition for them. Was it Putin’s mistake to re-establish Orthodoxy to Russia after 70 years of oppression by communism? A nation’s rooting in its history and tradition is a sign of health, is it not? This had to be true even more in post-communism Russia…
Is Putin an authoritarian? Without a doubt. But labeling someone “authoritarian” in a country like China and Russia – who never experienced constitutional democracy – does not carry the same weight as, for example, accusing “deep state” actors in the US of undermining our democracy. Russia and China were famously called by Karl August Wittfogel as prime modern examples of “Oriental Despotism” – a well-known classic (1957).
Is Putin using Orthodoxy as a foreign policy advantage? Who will blame him for such an “outrageous” attitude? Isn’t the business of every leader to use his country’s advantages to advance its interests? I will give the example of Putin’s visits to Mt.Athos, which stresses his connection to the Orthodox faith and radiates it throughout the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and particularly Greece. When Putin visits Mt.Athos (and he has done both public and private visits) he does it as an Orthodox (leader) and he usually stays at the Russian Monastery there. When the American ambassador of Greece Mr.Pyatt (formerly in Kyiv) visits Mt.Athos he is viewed as a tourist who, given his suspicious acts in Kyiv in 2014, has a possibly divisive role to play. Mr.Pyatt used to visit Mt.Athos very frequently until yours truly exposed his fake interest in Orthodoxy with sharp criticism.
I could keep going on but it would be better if our readers ask any questions after reading this interesting – but very one-sided – article…
How Putin Uses Russian Orthodoxy to Grow His Empire
By Alexis Mrachek and Shane McCrum (heritage.org)
- Putin often invokes the Russian Orthodox Church in his public speeches, giving the church a much more prominent place in Russian political life.
- Putin has set himself up as a defender of traditional morality—for instance, by opposing homosexuality, penalizing divorce, and supporting the “traditional family.”
- Putin’s use of traditional Christianity is calculated for political effect. American and European observers would do well to see through the charade.
When Vladimir Putin rose to the presidency of Russia in 2000, he inherited the remains of a once-fearsome communist-atheist imperial state.
In the intervening 19 years, he has transformed Russia back into an imperial power with global ambitions. One of his key tools in that transformation has been the Russian Orthodox Church.
Putin often invokes the Russian Orthodox Church in his public speeches, giving the church a much more prominent place in Russian political life than under his predecessors. But these invocations hardly seem sincere in the religious sense. Rather, he has used the church to justify Russian expansion and to try to discredit the West’s influence in Eastern Europe.
Many conservative figures in America, including Pat Buchanan and Franklin Graham, have been attracted to Putin’s rhetoric, with its heavy emphasis on traditional Western-Christian values and its seeming rejection of the culture of “degradation and primitivism,” which Putin says has produced “a moral crisis in the West.”
Putin has cleverly cast himself as a belligerent in the culture war. In doing so, he has appealed to some conservatives in America who have grown skeptical of the liberal democratic tradition inherited from the Enlightenment, which they believe contains the seeds of America’s spiritual and cultural demise.
Putin has set himself up as a defender of traditional morality—for instance, by opposing homosexuality, penalizing divorce, and supporting the “traditional family.” He loves to pose for photo-ops with the Russian Patriarch Kirill, and has even published calendars of himself featuring traditional liturgical celebrations.
But recent conflicts with Ukraine suggest that Putin’s public affinity for Christianity may have more to do with geopolitics than religious sincerity. After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Putin sought to justify his action by pointing to a shared religious and cultural history:
Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization, and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been in lockstep with Putin, and has in fact served to advance his ends. A case in point is its position on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Since the year 1686, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had been under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow. But last October, the Ukrainian church announced that after 332 years, it was splitting with the Patriarchate of Moscow in an attempt to gain independence from Russia. This split was facilitated by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and approved by the head of the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, based in Turkey.
Yet the Russian Orthodox Church protested and said the split was illegitimate. It continues to maintain that the Patriarchate of Moscow holds jurisdiction beyond Russian borders into Ukraine and Belarus.
This religious split comes amid heightened political tensions between Ukraine and Russia, seen most recently in the arrest and subsequent detainment of 24 Ukrainian sailors by Russia last November.
Astonishingly, Putin blamed Ukrainian politicians for the church split, accusing them of “meddling” in the church’s affairs and dismissing the Ukrainian church’s departure as a “secular political project.” He then positioned Russia as somehow a defender of religious freedom, saying, “We reserve the right to react and do everything to protect human rights, including the freedom of worship.”
This is blatantly hypocritical of Putin. The Associated Press recently discovered that the Russian government was itself guilty of “meddling” by attempting to hack into Ukrainian Orthodox Church emails. It appears the now-infamous Russian hacking group “Fancy Bear” had been targeting Bartholomew’s correspondences with Ukraine leading up to the decision to grant the Ukrainian Church independence.
Putin is seeking to tighten his grip on Ukraine and Belarus, as well as expand Russian influence further into Eastern and Central Europe. He will undoubtedly continue to promote Orthodoxy in the process. This is simply an attempt to seduce former Soviet republics back under the sway of Russia.
The Kremlin’s use of Orthodox Christianity makes perfect sense, given religious trends in the region. Orthodox Christianity has enjoyed a marked revival in Eastern Europe in the last two decades. In nine of Russia’s regional neighboring states—Moldova, Greece, Armenia, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Belarus—more than 70 percent of people identify as Orthodox, according to current Pew Research results.
This revival of Orthodoxy coincides with pro-Russian sentiment. Pew Research notes that in the nine former Soviet nations that are majority-Orthodox—except for Ukraine—more than half of those surveyed agree that “a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West.”
Pew Research concludes:
[M]any Orthodox Christians—and not only Russian Orthodox Christians—express pro-Russia views. … Orthodox identity is tightly bound up with national identity, feelings of pride and cultural superiority, support for linkages between national churches and governments, and views of Russia as a bulwark against the West.
Many Eastern European nations are at a crossroads between two options: increased integration with the West and liberalization, on the one hand, and alignment with Russia and authoritarianism on the other.
As Putin seeks more influence over these nations, emphasizing traditional religion serves two of his goals. It establishes a common ground between Russia and Eastern Europe, and, more importantly, amplifies the differences that Eastern Europe may have with the West—especially as the Western world drifts further away from traditional values and religion.
Putin’s use of traditional Christianity is calculated for political effect. American and European observers would do well to see through the charade.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal