catholicherald.co.uk | Many Western conservative Christians have been seduced by Kremlin-funded propaganda presenting Putin as a model of bravery and virility. They relish his hostility to homosexuals (though in the interests of public relations this has recently been toned down). You can even find traditionalist Catholic websites praising him as the chief enemy of a Satanic new world order.
An openly pious man, Putin’s own religiosity appears genuine, despite his past as a servant of the anticlerical Soviet state. After a career as a KGB officer based in East Germany, he claims to have converted to Christianity. Several well-informed writers have noted the progressively strong influence of Russian Orthodoxy on his worldview – a malodorous blend of Eastern Christianity, Russian nationalism and conspiracism that he has already put into practice in Ukraine.
For most of Russia’s history, Orthodox Christianity and the Russian nationality were inseparable. To be Russian was to be Orthodox. As strong as the connection was, there still existed those who thought Russia had lost its way, surrendering its Christian morality to nefarious Western concepts like individualism. (For a notable example of this perspective, read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s jarring commencement address at Harvard University in 1978, when he criticised Western culture as godless and materialistic.)
It is all very well to dismiss the Moscow patriarchate as a client or even a puppet of the president, but the fact remains that powerful Russian officials routinely meet with church leaders.
When Putin speaks as if he were the spiritual leader of Russia, is he being entirely insincere? And are those Orthodox who believe him simply seduced by the Kremlin’s world-class propaganda machine?
The answer to these questions cannot be a simple “yes”. In the Russian tradition, religion and politics are intertwined in ways that non-Russians find difficult to understand. And, amazingly, that tradition – which incorporates the concept of “spiritual security” against Western contamination – seems to have survived 70 years of overtly atheist Communism.