Putin’s Orthodox Jihad

Yesterday Russia announced a revised military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin, that names NATO as the Kremlin’s main adversary and clarifies that Russia’s military reserves the right to respond to conventional threats with both nuclear and conventional weapons. This is no big change, since it only amplifies existing doctrine, but its explicit emphasis on NATO as the primary threat to Russia’s security has raised Western eyebrows, as intended. Anyone who thought the West, led by the United States, could lay waste to Russia’s economy through sanctions brought about by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, without significant pushback from Moscow, is too naive to deal in such important affairs. The new year promises to be a busy one, with myriad forms of retaliation emanating from Moscow, some possibly very unpleasant, as I recently explained.

My explanation back in March, on the heels of Russia’s theft of Crimea, that we are in Cold War 2.0, whether we like it or not, was dismissed as alarmist by those not well acquainted with Putin and his system, but has been borne out by events over the last nine months. One reason oft-cited by skeptics regarding the state of relations between Russia and the West is the supposed absence of an ideological component to the rivalry, which is a necessary precondition for any reborn Cold War. President Barack Obama has been one of the leading proponents of this hopeful view, stating: “This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations. No global ideology. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia.”

As I explained back in April, this view is wrong, and has only gotten wronger over the last several months. In fact, Putin should be seen as the leader of what I termed the Anti-WEIRD Coalition, the vanguard of the diverse movement that is opposed to Western post-modernism in its political and social forms — and particularly to its spread by governments, corporations, NGOs, or the bayonets of the U.S. military. While this should not be seen as any formal alliance, nor is it likely to become one, there exists an agglomeration of countries that are opposed to what the West, and especially America, represent on the world stage, and this was the year that Putin unambiguously took its helm.

What motivates this is a complex question. Putin is a complex character himself, with his worldview being profoundly shaped by his long service as a Soviet secret policeman; he exudes what Russians term Chekism — conspiracy-based thinking that sees plots abounding and is reflexively anti-Western, with heavy doses of machismo and KGB tough-talk. Hence persistent Western efforts to view Putin as any Western sort of democratic politician, albeit one with a strange affectation for judo and odd bare-chested photo-ops with scary wild animals, invariably miss the mark.

This year ending also saw the mask drop regarding Putin’s ideology beyond his bone-deep Chekism. In his fire-breathing speech to the Duma in March when he announced Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin included not just venerable KGB classics like warnings about the Western Fifth Column and “national traitors,” but also paeans to explicit Russian ethnic nationalism buttressed by Orthodox mysticism, with citations of saints from millennia past. This was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy. Behind the Chekist sword and shield lurks the Third Rome, forming a potent and, to many Russians, plausible worldview. That this take on the planet and its politics is intensely anti-Western needs to be stated clearly.

But what of Putin’s actual beliefs? This knotty question is, strictly speaking, unanswerable, since only he knows his own soul. Putin’s powerful Chekism is beyond doubt, while many Westerners are skeptical that he is any sort of Orthodox believer. According to his own account, Putin’s father was a militant Communist while his mother was a faithful, if quiet, Orthodox believer; one wonders what holidays were like in the Putin household. He was baptized in secret as a child but was not any sort of engaged believer during his KGB service — that would have been impossible, not least due to the KGB’s role in persecuting religion — but by his own account, late in the Soviet period, Putin reconciled his Chekism with his faith by making the sign of the cross over his KGB credentials. By the late 1990’s, Putin was wearing his baptismal cross openly, for all bare-chested photo ops.

The turn to faith in middle-age, after some sort of life crisis, is a staple of conversion and reversion stories. In his last years in power, Saddam Hussein began talking a lot about Islam openly, which was dismissed as political theater in the West, but in retrospect seems to have been at least somewhat sincere. Did Putin opt for Orthodoxy after a mid-life crisis? I am an Orthodox believer myself and, having carefully watched many video clips of Putin in church and at religious events, I can state without reservation that Putin knows what to do. His religious act — kissing icons, lighting candles, interacting with clerics — is flawless, so Putin is either a sincere Orthodox or he has devoted serious study to looking and acting like one.

Whether this faith is genuine or a well-honed pose, Putin’s potent fusion of KGB values and Orthodoxy has been building for years, though few Westerners have noticed. Early in Putin’s years in the Kremlin, the younger generation of Federal Security Service (FSB) officers embraced a nascent ideology they termed “the system” (sistema), which was a sort of elitist Chekism — toughness free of corruption and based in patriotism — updated for the new 21st century. However, this could have limited appeal to the masses, so its place was gradually taken by a doctrine termed “spiritual security.” This involved the ideological fusion of the FSB and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), culminating in the 2002 dedication of an Orthodox church at the Lubyanka, the FSB — and former KGB’s — notorious Moscow headquarters. It suddenly became fashionable for senior FSB officers to have conversion experiences, while “spiritual security” offered Putin’s Russia a way to defend itself against what it has long seen as the encroachment of decadent post-modern Western values. Just how seriously Putin took all this was his statement that Russia’s “spiritual shield” was as important to her security as her nuclear shield.

Nearly all Western experts, being mostly secularists when not atheists, paid no attention to these clear indications of where Putin was taking Russia, while the view of the few who did notice was colored by the perception that this simply had to be a put-up job by the Kremlin. But what if it is not? Skeptics are correct to note that Chekists have had a toxic and convoluted relationship with the ROC ever since Stalin, that failed Orthodox seminarian, resurrected the remnants of the Church, what little had survived vicious Bolshevik persecution, during the darkest days of the Great Patriotic War to buttress the regime with faith and patriotism — all tightly controlled by the secret police. There was the rub. Under the Soviets, all senior ROC appointments were subject to Chekist review, while nobody became a bishop without the KGB having some kompromat on him. This was understood by all, including the fact that a distressing number of ROC senior clerics were actual KGB agents. It’s not surprising that Putin omits from his CV that he worked for a time in the KGB’s Fifth Directorate, which supervised religious bodies, leading some to speculate that Putin’s relationship with certain ROC bishops extends deep into the late Soviet period.

The ROC is not Russia’s state religion, as Putin and top bishops have been at pains to state, but it cannot be denied that the Moscow Patriarchate’s close ties to the Kremlin grant it a very special relationship with Putinism. Whether this actually is symphonia, meaning the Byzantine-style unity of state and church which is something of an Orthodox ideal, in stark contrast to American notions of separation of church and state, remains to be seen, but Orthodoxy has become the close political and ideological partner of the Kremlin in recent years, a preferred vehicle for explicit anti-Western propaganda.

ROC agitprop, which has Kremlin endorsement, depicts a West that is declining down to its death at the hands of decadence and sin, mired in confused unbelief, bored and failing to even reproduce itself. Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, recently explained that the “main threat” to Russia is “the loss of faith” in the Western style, while ROC spokesmen constantly denounce feminism and the LGBT movement as Satanic creations of the West that aim to destroy faith, family, and nation. It is in this context that Putin’s comments at last year’s Valdai Club event ought to be seen:

Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote pedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

This week the ideological ante was upped by the Kremlin with the comments of Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, a media gadfly cleric, who gave a very long newspaper interview in which he castigated, among other things, radical Islam, usury, and the West generally, but it was his comments on the current conflict with America that got all the attention. Chaplin minced no words, proclaiming that Russia’s God-given goal today is halting the global “American project.” As he explained:

It is no coincidence that we have often, at the price of our own lives … stopped all global projects that disagreed with our conscience, with our vision of history and, I would say, with God’s own truth .. Such was Napoleon’s project, such was Hitler’s project. We will stop the American project too.”

Chaplin added the usual tropes about Western decadence compared to Russian spiritual strength, waxing nationalist and Orthodox in a manner much like Putin has done many times. This interview was viewed as strange by most Westerners, but it must be realized that Chaplin, for all his inflammatory statements, is hardly some lone cleric talking crazy. He is the official spokesman of the Moscow Patriarchate who has a very close relationship with Patriarch Kirill; he appears in the media regularly and has received a raft of decorations from the ROC and the Russian state.

The forty-six year old Chaplin regularly makes statements that reflect a patriotic and religiously hardline stance on, well, everything. To cite only a few of his utterances to the media, Chaplin recently denounced a Hobbit movie promotion in Moscow as a Satanic symbol that would bring evil to the city; he stated that the Pussy Riot case was proof that “The West gives its support to divide the people of Russia”; he advocated a national dress code for Russia, citing rising immorality (“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work … If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”); and he has been particularly vocal in his opposition to Western-backed homosexuality: “it is one of the gravest sins because it changes people’s mental state, makes the creation of a normal family impossible, and corrupts the younger generation. By the way, it is no accident that the propaganda of this sin is targeted at young people and sometimes at children. It deprives people of eternal bliss.”

Chaplin’s biggest theme is that the decadent, post-modern West, led by the frankly Satanic United States — whose separation of church and state, per Chaplin, constitutes “a monstrous phenomenon that has occurred only in Western civilization and will kill the West, both politically and morally” — has no future. According to the ROC, speaking through its spokesman, the triumph of same-sex marriage means that the West doesn’t even have fifty years left before its collapse, and it will be up to Russia then to save what can be saved, to “make Europe Christian again, that is, go back to the ideals that once made Europe.”

While it is tempting to dismiss such talk as ravings, even when they come from the official spokesman of Putin’s own church, they have deep resonance with more serious thinkers whom Putin admires. Ivan Ilyin, a Russian philosopher who fled the Bolsheviks and died in Swiss exile, was reburied at Moscow’s famous Donskoy monastery in 2005 with public fanfare; Putin personally paid for Ilyin’s new headstone. Despite the fact that even Kremlin outlets note the importance of Ilyin to Putin’s worldview, not enough Westerners have paid attention.

They should. A devout Orthodox, Ilyin espoused a unique vision, a Slavophile take on modernity and Russia’s predicament under the militant atheists. He espoused ethnic-religious neo-traditionalism, amidst much talk about a unique “Russian soul.” Of greatest relevance today, he believed that Russia would recover from the Bolshevik nightmare and rediscover itself, first spiritually then politically, thereby saving the world. Ilyin’s take on responsibility for Bolshevism — and its cure — merits examination, as he explained:

The West exported this anti-Christian virus to Russia … Having lost our bond with God and the Christian Tradition, mankind has been morally blinded, gripped by materialism, irrationalism and nihilism … In order to overcome the global moral crisis, we have to return to eternal moral values, that is faith, love, freedom, conscience, family, motherland and nation, but above all faith and love.

Although Ilyin died sixty years ago, he remains to his admirers “the prophet of the new Orthodox Russia which is being born and which alone can give the contemporary world a viable future, providing that it is given time to grow to fruition in contemporary Russia.” As Ilyin wrote to a friend near the end of his life, when the fall of Communism was still decades off:

What are we to do, squeezed between Catholics, Freemasons and Bolsheviks? I answer: Stand firm, standing up with your left hand, which goes from the heart, for Christ the Lord, for His undivided tunic, and, with your right hand, fight to the end for Orthodoxy and Orthodox Russia. And, above all, vigilantly watch those groups which are preparing for Antichrist. All of this – even if we are threatened by apparent complete powerlessness and total solitude.

The sort of uncompromising faith Ilyin stood for, which bears little similarity to Western Christianity much less to post-modern notions of “tolerance,” is made abundantly clear in his numerous writings and speeches. Of particular interest is a speech Ilyin gave in 1925, extolling Lavr Kornilov, a White Russian general who fell in the struggle against Bolshevism (and, not coincidentally, exactly the sort of Orthodox-believing yet non-noble White counter-revolutionary figure much admired by Putin). Ilyin defined what Russia and Orthodoxy now needed: “This idea is more than a single man, more than a feat of one hero. This idea is great as Russia and the sacred as her religion. This is the idea of the Orthodox sword.” He cited the fatal shortcomings of pre-revolutionary Russia as “limp sentimentality, spiritual nihilism and moral pedantry,” and to counter those Russia needed a strong dose of fighting faith. As Ilyin explained:

In calling to love our enemies, Christ had in mind personal enemies of man, not God’s enemies, and not blaspheming molesters, for them drowning with a millstone around their neck was recommended. Urging to forgive injuries, Christ was referring to personal insults to a person, not all possible crimes; no one has the right to forgive the offenses suffered by others or provide for the villains to offend the weak, corrupt children, desecrate churches and destroy the Fatherland. So therefore a Christian is called not only to forgive offenses, but to fight the enemies of God’s work on earth. The evangelical commandment of “non-resistance to evil” teaches humility and generosity in personal matters, and not limpness of will, not cowardice, not treachery and not obedience to evildoers.

This is the vision — uncompromising faith and patriotism, without any sentimentality or weakness — that animates Russia’s holy warriors today, from Fr. Chaplin, and perhaps Vladimir Putin too, on down. Russian Orthodoxy’s church militant is a special breed that tends to mystify Westerners. Certainly the West finds the motley crew of Kremlin-backed Orthodox adventurers and mercenaries battling in the Donbass to be equal parts comical and sinister, yet they have an ideology which they hardly hide. As an Orthodox priest ministering to Russian fighters in Donetsk explained a few months ago — a bearded cleric and tough veteran of the Soviet Afghan war, he is a creature straight out of Ilyin’s dreams — what they are battling against is not the Ukrainian government, nor American neoconservatives, rather the Devil himself. The goal of Moscow’s enemy, as he elaborated, is perfectly clear to the eyes of faith:

The establishment of planetary Satanic rule. What’s occurring here is the very beginning of a global war. Not for resources or territory, that’s secondary. This is a war for the destruction of true Christianity, Orthodoxy. The worldview of the wealthiest men who own almost all the material goods in the world is Satanism. Having summoned the elements of the First and Second World Wars and a Third Information War, and having laid hundreds of millions of the slain at the altar of their father, Satan, they have initiated the Fourth World War. They are intentionally hastening the reign of Antichrist.

As with Vsevolod Chaplin, it’s tempting to dismiss all this as the ravings of a lone nut, but these are no longer fringe views in Putin’s Russia.  Jihad is not a word to be used lightly, given its sinister connotations to the West after 9/11, but this bears more than a little resemblance to Holy War in a Russian and Orthodox variant. Whether Putin really believes all this may be immaterial, since his regime has created and nurtured a virulent ideology, an explosive amalgam of xenophobia, Chekism and militant Orthodoxy which justifies the Kremlin’s actions and explains why the West must be opposed at all costs. Given the economic crisis that Russia now finds itself in, thanks to Western sanctions, during the long and cold winter now starting, we ought to expect more, not fewer, Russians turning to this worldview which resonates with their nation’s history and explains the root of their suffering.

We perhaps should be grateful that the Orthodox Jihad rejects suicide bombings. In the 1930’s, Romania’s fascist Legionary Movement, led by the charismatic Orthodox revolutionary Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, toyed with what terrorism mavens today might term “martyrdom operations,” but these never really caught on. Orthodoxy frowns on suicide, even in a just cause. That, at least, is the good news.

The bad news, however, is that Putin’s uncompromising worldview has more than a few admirers in the West, far beyond the Orthodox realm. Many who reject Moscow’s quasi-religious mysticism nevertheless admire its willingness to take on America directly and offer a counterpoint to armed post-modernism in world affairs. As I’ve previously explained, many European far-right parties have quite a crush on the man in the Kremlin, perhaps due to the money he gives them, but the sincerity of some of the admiration is not in question. In France, Marine Le Pen is leading her National Front to ever-greater heights of political power, and her affection for Putin is unconcealed. “In Russia today there is a mix of exalting nationalism, exalting the church and Christian values,” explained a French politico: “They are now replacing the red star with the cross, and they are representing themselves as the ultimate barrier against the Islamization of the continent.” Since it is far from impossible that Le Pen will be president of France someday, the implications of all this for NATO and the West merit serious consideration.

It would be supremely ironic if the last defender of Europe and European values comes from the East, from a Kremlin controlled by a former KGB officer who mourns the collapse of the Soviet Union yet has rediscovered traditional faith and family values. As discontentment with American-led Europe spreads, the Russian option may look plausible to more Europeans, worried about immigration, identity, and the collapse of their values and economies, than Americans might imagine. Ivan Ilyin, however, might not be surprised by this strange turn of events in the slightest.


56 comments on “Putin’s Orthodox Jihad”
  1. Pawel66 says:

    A very good analysis and a proper title. Similar to ISIL, Mr Putin seems to be using a pseudo-religious ideology to cover up his inability to support a health society and promote the well being of the people he rules.
    Imperialism and the drive to eliminate alternative viewpoints and systems are also common to both. They expect that the miserable lives and lack of hope will suddenly start to feel more normal once everyone else shares them. …

  2. This is an excellent insight you’re offering there. These processes and transformations are well known here in Greece and have been crucial into turning more and more Greek people into Putin sympathisers.

    If i may ask how come you are an orthodox? I wouldn’t have guessed based on your name.

    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks for your feedback. I’m Eastern European on my mother’s side. 🙂

  3. John – a good synthetic post. I hope the hypothesis (“replacing the red star with the cross”) is wrong – this would put the conflict in the domain which is near impossible to argue. With communists one could at least try to argue economy etc on the basis of numbers. How do you argue religion/destiny motivated people?

    I had a weird encounter (about year 2000?) with an intelligent, young, adult, university educated Russian here in Warsaw. She was talking about her recent return to Orthodoxy (Russian). She described how an Orthodox priest (here in Warsaw), on hearing that she occasionally frequented Catholic Mass, lamented on the mortal spiritual danger she subjected herself to, and immediately (he) came forward with remedial action (“back into the fold”). I can obviously understand promoting own creed (ok, the priest is supposed to choose what he believes is the best way), but the black/white presentation alarmed me. There is a significant (I do not claim universal) tradition of mutual tolerance between Catholic and Orthodox around here (down to mixed marriages without conversion) – her attitude felt odd. In the same conversation I had been asked “how come there are only 2 Orthodox churches in Warsaw today, while there used to be over 20 in 1914?”. Having such a question asked by a university educated person, living in Warsaw for quite a while, felt weird.

    For a long time I thought the above encounter was something fringe-related. But now I wonder if this was really fringe.

    1. 20committee says:

      Sounds pretty normal for Russia today, IMO.

  4. mrmeangenes says:

    Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    Interesting analysis !
    Thank you, sir !

  5. Dan says:

    So russia is fighting “The Great Satan”
    That gave me quite a chuckle. You russian experts / watchers were not seeing THIS one coming.

    1. 20committee says:

      this one was 😉

    2. Niccolo Salo says:

      “They told me to hate the Russians because they were a bunch of commie Godless bastards. Now they tell me to hate the Russians because they’re a bunch of Christian believers.”

      Russia (and the other republics of the former USSSR) experienced 70+ years of state-enforced Atheism which resulted in the social collapse that only recently has begun to be turned around thanks to the efforts of the Putin regime, particularly with its focus on pro-natalism. Those of us in the West who never experienced such a social system as Communism could learn a thing or two from them in respect to how overthrowing traditional societies in a revolutionary fervour might not always lead to utopia. In fact, it never does.

      John hits up on the point of how the European far right and European nationalists look towards Russia now to save them from the rabid individualism of the West which manifests itself in state-mandated secularism, mass immigration, overt sexualization, and the debasement of tradition in favour of libertinism. When one views such conflicts in this matter, the term “The Great Satan” does make sense, especially in light of the continued American micro-management of European states in the foreign policy realm, thanks to the State Department.

      For those of us from anti-communist emigre communities that moved to the West and away from the countries behind the Iron Curtain or Communist Yugoslavia, we placed a lot of faith in the USA during the Cold War. Although the Americans didn’t always deliver (naturally, they had their own interests as was their right), they generally did good by us, until the Berlin Wall fell. What happened after that? The now ex-communists in those countries simply changed stripes and became pro-Western liberals, social-democrats and moderate conservatives while those who were fervently anti-communist were left out in the cold by the Americans and who are now derided as “fascists, nazis, xenophobes, homophobes, etc.”. Little wonder why they see in Putin’s Russia a hope for Europe to stem the tide of libertinism and rabid individualism that has really impacted the countries of Western and Central Europe.

      1. Niccolo,
        not everybody in CE Europe thinks/perceives as overwhelming reality that “…ex-communists in those countries simply changed stripes and became pro-Western liberals (…) while those who were fervently anti-communist were left out in the cold…”.

        I do not, and (elections!) most of people in Poland do not.

        Of course what you describe is happening as well, the question is about proportions and relevance. Poland (like seems any other post-communist country) had a “back together” election affair with post-communists, but this stopped about 10 years ago. There are still here of course, parlamentary opposition. On the whole, people with anti-communist roots (or at least neutral/professional back then) proved to be better in administration of the country, there are (for most people) micro (personal encounters) and makro (front-page politics) arguments confirming this, so people vote their opinions.

        Of course there are many exemplary honest people from anti-communist movement who for various reasons proved less-than-ideal for public offices today and lost elections. It is often sad. But most people belonging to this category take it in stride, keep universal respect and in many cases keep serving the country by other means than elected positions. Prime example is Lech Wałęsa (lost presidential election to an ex-communist!).

  6. Docgas says:

    I am very impressed by your understanding of Putin’s Russia, which is very rare among Westerners. As a Russian living in the UK, I find it impossible to explain or just answer simple questions (which, of course, have no simple answers) about the state of play back home. The usual reaction to a long and futile explanation is “I hope our politicians understand this”. I think it is largely attributable to the fact that you cannot simply use rational “Western” approach to understanding the way Russians think. Logical thinking has never been a part of University curricula since 1917. Those, who endeavoured to think were either exterminated in Gulag, or killed at the War. The remaining were forced to believe in a bright Communist future, or pretend to believe while getting the most out of the system. This corrupted the mind and was quite soul-destroying. The wild capitalism of the 90s finished off any bright hopes for the future, which we had all had after the fall of the USSR. There was a void, which the checkists quite cunnily filled with an extremist variant of the Orthodox faith. You have a situation where poorly educated people (in the last 15 years the school curriculum has been intentionally tempered with by the regime) are indoctrinated by a militant religious cult on an industrial level. Very very dangerous! Last year about 300 churches opened up in Moscow alone . 30 hospitals has closed at the same time…

    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks, I agree with all that ….

  7. I don’t know if you have come across Christos Mylonas, “Serbian Orthodox Fundamentals: The Quest for an Eternal Identity”. Though focusing on the Serbian and Greek variants of Orthodoxy, some of it is very relevant for Russia. (An interest to declare – I supervised the thesis on which the book is based.)

    1. 20committee says:

      Clearly a must-read, thanks!

  8. I appreciate your understanding of the religious factor in Russian politics. Allow me one addition to the passage
    Whether this actually is symphonia, meaning the Byzantine-style unity of state and church which is something of an Orthodox ideal, in stark contrast to American notions of separation of church and state, remains to be seen, but Orthodoxy has become the close political and ideological partner of the Kremlin in recent years, a preferred vehicle for explicit anti-Western propaganda.

    The divide between the Eastern Ort.Ch. and the Roman Catholic Ch. (1054) happened at this point, when the Roman church has freed itself from the power of the emperor (libertas ecclesiae); the Eastern ceasaro-papism was a factor in Russian politics not only under tsars, but even under communism, and in both cases it has had negative consequences. Recent expectations are based on forgetting of these past circumstances. The “American project” may be a convenient label, but unfortunately it is being introduced at a time when in America and Western Europe it is the state that again tries to destroy the “libertas ecclesiae”, which is admittedly facilitated already by the protestant divide (cuius regio, eius religio).

    1. Jorge says:

      I was thinking along the same lines, but you put it better than I could.

  9. Natalie K. says:

    Fascinating post as usual, John!

  10. george ready says:

    Absolutely brilliant article, thanks very much indeed. Im in awe,

  11. fguesnet says:

    This is a fascinating analysis, many thanks. The only thing which I find irritating is the title word ‘jihad’ instead of, e.g., ‘crusade’. You seem to identify two forms/traditions of religio-political violence (“We perhaps should be grateful that the Orthodox Jihad rejects suicide bombings”) which arguably have different roots and different objectives. But again, many thanks for this blog.

    1. 20committee says:

      Crusade is a Western, not Eastern, Christian concept. Thanks for your comments.

  12. Orthodox Laissezfairist says:

    The only problem I actually see in Russian plan is the socialist economy (while it’s no longer communist, it is still socialist). If they replaced Socialism with Laissez-faire, they would actually stand a great chance at winning the Cold War II (for the same reason that brought victory to the West in Cold War I – the better economy).

    1. Arimathean says:

      An essential part of Putinism is that Putin is the godfather of the Russian syndicate. Allowing independent economic actors to succeed would compromise Putin’s monopoly of power. Putin prefers a poor, weak Russia where he is the undisputed boss to a wealthy Russia where he has to share power.

      Historically, Novgorod showed that Russians could run a successful a republic with a free market. But ever since Novogorod was subjugated by Moscow, that potential had remained dormant in Russia. It might even be dead.

  13. Cegorach says:

    Definetely scary, but seems quite predictable in the end.

    If the Kremlin is reverting to the times (and language) of the Tzarist Empire militant, ‘jihaddi’ Orthodox church is just behind the corner.
    We’ve seen that first hand in Poland before 1914. The post-Yugoslavian area seen some of it in the 1990s and Ukraine seems the new frontline of the war.
    Back to the past since in the XIXth century the Unianite church was openly as semi-satanic. Hell, one can claim that any form of non-Moscow controlled church was considered a satanic invention in earlier centuries and might be one of reasons behind Russian invasion of Poland-Lithuania in 1792 because 3rd May constitution was establishing independent Orthodox church on its territory…

    One sobering fact is that the absolute majority of the Russians is not devout.
    One unnerving fact is that faith can have nothing to do with sharing the point of view where Russia is the Third Rome once again as long as it is again ‘strong’ i.e. feared by its neighbours.
    One horryfying fact is that the entire bloody mixture of distorted history (really Putin seems like an uneducated teenage troll with his ravings), conspiracy theories, messiah complex on the scale of a state and bits and pieces of real religion (how post-modern! ;)) will lead to more actions necessary to prove how right it is.
    Personally I am a bit worried that those Russian ‘ideologies’ of late agree that us Poles are irredeemably tainted by the west so not even traitors to the mythical Slavdome who can be converted, but… close to filth which should be removed from the face of the planet.
    How fucking cool.

    2015 will definetelly be interesting, but 2017 with elections in France might be more. We will see if starved russian economy close to collapse will need a major distraction and if Le Pen will shake the structures of the European Union so hard that the Kremlin will decide that it is the last moment to smash the NATO, the EU, all the semi-satanic degenerates and… invades Latvia.

    On the brighter note I dearly hope the Kremlin will not survive by that time, but right now I do not see too many viable possibilites for a major change by that time. Hope something will materialise though…

  14. deuxglass1 says:

    The possibility that Putin sees himself as a messianic leader is not too far-fetched to dismiss. If he actually believes or is just using the Russian Orthodox Church to further his ambition is impossible to know but as long as his goals parallel those of the Russian Orthodox Church then they will reinforce each other. The feedback loop could embolden Putin to take a risks. Posing himself not only as the savior of Russian but also of Christian civilization might fly in Russian but not in the West. Till now his Orthodox Jihad is against another Orthodox people in the Ukraine. My take on this is that his conversion is for internal support only. The increase of far-right parties in the West stems almost only from immigration issues that the traditional parties have swept under the rug for far too long. If the traditional parties start to seriously address this issue then the far-right parties would lose most of their sympathizers.

  15. mf says:

    Russia is, as she has been throughout her history, a bastion of eastern despotism. There is really nothing new here. Periodically there is a reform movement, usually a result of a major war being lost. Heretofore every reform movement succumbed to the relapse of despotism, also known to some as the Russian soul. The last such war was the cold war. The primary feature or motivating factor of eastern despotism is complete supremacy of the state over the individual. Individual has value only to an extent that he/she serves the state. This is more less the opposite of the legacy of Magna Carta that tends to motivate the “West”. The legacy of Magna Carta posits that the state exists solely to serve the individual and has no other purpose or transcendent being. It is really this fundamental conflict that fueled the cold war. We sometimes call this proposition “human rights”, a term that became popular during the cold war. Communism in this sense was a distraction, as there never really was Communism in Russia, or for that matter anywhere else. The problem for Russia today is that despotism can be stable socially over long periods of time, but is not efficient economically and thus translates itself into a relative military weakness. Russia remains a significant threat primarily because her subjects can suffer deprivations to much greater extent than westerners would, and thus resources of the state can be directed towards the military for quite some time without causing domestic upheaval. Add to this the Smith and Wesson of inter-state conflict, nukes, and you have a significant lingering threat. Russian despotism is a natural ally of fascist movements in the West which also hold the state above an individual. Fascism has been recently ascendant in the West because of economic problems, a faint but nonetheless an echo of the decade of the thirties of last century, which amplifies the threat to the integrity of Europe. Nonetheless, Russia herself is playing with fire here. Population explosion in Asia will sooner or later (if not already) be spilling into the Asian part of Russia. It is unlikely that Russia will be able to defend this territory without somehow reforming herself. The last 100 years have been fairly calamitous for the Russian empire, and I personally think the trend will continue, provided that the West can maintain cohesion and adhere to its values.

  16. Bill says:

    It would be much nicer if all these charges against American culture were false. Unfortunately, much more than a grain of truth here.

    1. Sid says:

      I can too see the grievances of Putin about the rest of the “christian” (read: white) world falling into complete post-modern relativism. I would ask him though : “I know my prime minister (Harper in my case, one very hysterical anti-russian “leader” if there is one, be happy he can’t control the US) is increasingly pushing anti-russian rhetoric and the anti-missile shield in europe is something that creates an imbalance in strategic power (which keeps humanity alive since the horrible nuclear bomb genie came out of the bottle), to please spare many of us “westerners” as we don’t agree with our “leaders” and voting levels are at their lowest % in all of the western world since the false hope and change of Obama hurt the most apathetics who were convinced in voting in 2008 but Obama is such a great actor (most of the time anyway) he really mesmerized a large part of the world. Now people are offended. Do not seek revenge on western people and obviously do not use nuclear weapons. One nuke flying and it’s over for the northern hemisphere and eventually even the southern hemisphere. Just a short exchange would destroy the ozone layer (although I think chemtrails of baryum and aluminum particles is the artificial way of deflecting sun rays back into space, a solution to “climate change” when it was called global warming back then from some scientists (who clearly know this is going on).

      Point is. You can’t have a real war anymore, a war with large ramifications, you can only have silly small conflicts like in eastern ukraine, south sudan, central african republic etc. It’s 11:58pm on the nuclear clock, but I would say it will become 11:59pm if you, an intelligent person for sure, Vladimir, can understand.

      I also understand that the real reasons for all of this recent animosity and those sanctions (which hurt the west too,and not just the counter-sanctions from your noble country) is that the reassurances (which should have been made as a Treaty) of Reagan with Gorbachev and later Bush Sr. and Gorbachev that ex USSR republics would NOT be absorbed into NATO was a complete lie, one you should have seen coming honestly, but back then you were led by an alcoholic who would spend weeks in bed from depression (a la LBJ), which the west used to plunder your country, and I would understand the frustration and outrage if Russian, hell I am able to feel empathy enough (sometimes people say I don’t know where my business starts and ends but I think anyone is allowed to analyze anything in this world to help them grasp a comprehensive view of the world) to understand how some of them might feel.

      I would not like to be a russian citizen right now, I’d be really frightened, and not of Putin, but the missile shield “for Iran” and how your government is backing Iran (and I think Iran is not a full member of the SCO but assists their meetings), not that it’s not in your own countries Interest to back Iran, military even. Basically the Iranians have the atom bomb, after the numerous public pledges and warning to NATO and or Israel of attacking Iran, which has cameras from the IAEA and UN looking at that goes on in their nuclear power facilities.

      I think nuclear power should be abolished (other than the ignored Thorium reactors, which work, and are magnitudes safer than the regular uranium reactors), but as I always suspected, Thorium power plants do not exist because the nuclear power industry is hand in hand with the nuclear weapons industry. And so I don’t really care for Iran’s “right to develop peaceful nuclear tech” as to me there is no such thing. But Israel do have an “undeclared” (Simon Peres basically admitted it in 2003 or something at some conference, I’d need to referesh my memory, but since he wasn’t in government then (I think), it’s not “official admission”.

      I find it very bizarre that this article makes no mentions of Israel and how Putin has often said that he doesn’t know who tells who what to do in the incestuous relationship between the 2 countries (not less incestuous than say Russia and Belarus, but they’re basically the same country…Belarus being even closer to being outright Russians than Ukrainians, which is quite something, but in the great scheme of things, that relationship isn’t very meaningful, because it is a peaceful one. And nations that just want to do their thing in peace and not be part of the “international community” which means NATO and its allies find themselves persecuted for such.
      Reminds me of when the USSR asked to join NATO in 1954, or so, I may have the date wrong, but it wasn’t a contradiction for them to ask for membership then, if you read what NATO is about…but no, NATO finding itself with no purpose, quickly reneged on the Bush Sr/Gorbachev understandings that ex USSR republics would be left alone in that loose CIS organization (which has ceased to exist for all intents and purposes).

      Yes, Putin might be a big christian believer, of the eastern kind. Big whoop, so far the dangerous times we are in are created by countries without nuclear weapons and no nato membership (or partnership…something for another post) getting taken over by neocons of the PNAC variety right at Russia’s doorstep and then people wonder what’s with Putin lately, who was “our friend in the 2000’s”.

  17. Former Pope Benedict XVI called current economic crisis as crisis of meaningless.Tragedy of Putin and his elite is declaration of human values,but in real act as barbarian occupants.Western democracy still has resources to be as basis of civil world order.Putin wants to change this order on new,with Russia’s political leadership.Only by solidarity of civil nations we can avoid this terrible scenario.Unbalanced,aggressive ideology as world political main stream;it will be real crash of humanity,true Christianity and universal democracy.I think,kindness will win on evil.

  18. Midlander says:

    This goes to prove that Russian Orthodoxy is definitely not the same religion as Orthodox Christianity as found in the other Orthodox Churches. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow cannot be considered an Orthodox Hierarch. He has fallen into apostacy and heresy.

    1. arimathean says:

      Patriarch Kirill is a holdover from the communist era, when the KGB ran the Orthodox Church (and all other legal religions). Like all the top bishops, Kirill reported to a KGB handler, and he did what was necessary to keep his career on track. He was not Putin’s favorite candidate for patriarch – Putin would have preferred the more pliable Kliment to the independent-minded Kirill.

      A few years ago when Kirill was showing too much independence, Putin reined him in by having a couple of articles published that highlighted Kirill’s expensive taste in watches and his luxurious apartment. Kirill was compromised by his decadence, and the chekists used this fact to threaten his stature as a church leader. Kirill has toed the line since then.

      If Kirill is succeeded by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, as everyone expects, things might change. Hilarion is a young man who never served as a bishop under the communist regime, and is therefore not compromised.

  19. rods2 says:

    Excellent post.

    The USSR tried to replace religion and the family as a unit and failed. In Eastern countries the family is a much more important bedrock and core to life than in most Western countries, where they are expected to help each other, especially in times of hardship or disaster. The same applies with local community values and bonds that forge their society.

    Left wing liberals in Western countries have been trying to do the same, by replacing the nuclei of two married parents and children with cohabiting and single parent families and have been much more successful. In the UK, if a family is on benefits they are much better off if the parents are apart than they are together! There is no tax coercion for marriage where the married person’s allowance was scrapped many years ago. In 9 out of 10 cases, it is much more likely a married family with children will stay together with all of the benefits for the children, than a cohabiting one.

    Most societies and civilizations are destroyed from within and the current crop of politicians with their deliberate destruction of what makes a coherent, stable, successful society and it isn’t material wealth along with their human moral poverty. Added to this is their buying of popularity and votes with our own money though ever increasing taxes, deficit spending and alarming dangerous levels of sovereign debt on their pet projects at the expense of their first duty to keep us safe, where defense spending is the first cut they make in their vain attempts to try to balance the books.

    This is why society in Europe is increasingly turning to ‘more traditionally value based’ more right-wing parties as the left-wing liberals are IMO trying to take society on many issues, where it doesn’t want to go. Putin with his funding of right-wing and ultranationalist parties is exploiting this and will continue to up the ante.

    I have no illusions and no desire to live my life under an authoritarian dictator like Putin, where I’m well aware what this means for any population under his control that your life, freedom, property and human rights are worth zero to him and his regime, but I have felt for the last 20 years that Western society has lost its way. Western society needs to get rid of their self indulgence re-find itself fast or get off to a head start by learning to speak Russian!

    1. 20committee says:

      Well said, thanks for your thought-provoking feedback.

  20. Say12 says:

    How is the rhetoric used by certain ROC clerics worse than the rhetoric used by certain American Christians like Pat Robertson? If Mike Huckabee had been elected US president, would we have to fear the US going on a Protestant jihad? Putin is certainly a jingoistic dictator, but I’ve never seen any evidence that Russian Orthodoxy has a desire to expand through violence the way certain Muslims do.

    1. 20committee says:

      Do you hate all Christians or just some?

  21. MarqueG says:

    It’s interesting to compare and contrast the ROC view of Russia as the cosmic savior with, say, the role of America held by the uniquely and profoundly American version of Christianity of the LDS. As opposed to Obama’s wimpy, leftist, post-modernist Christianity, wouldn’t a President Romney have made for an odd counterpoint to a hypothetical Orthodox jihadi in VVP?

  22. c6543 says:

    “Whether this faith is genuine or a well-honed pose, Putin’s potent fusion of KGB values and Orthodoxy has been building for years”

    Right, the Cheka has learned from the long collaboration with “resistance” organizations in the Middle East how effective religion of a certain kind can be as a steroid for the People.

    Isn’t the purported complexity of Putin’s worldview just due to a simple misunderstanding of how unashamedly differing his messages are to different audiences? Many observers may tend to believe that he actually means everything he is saying. So, which is the real message, the one directed to the Soldiers of the Dobass “People’s Republics” or the one on RT’s English services? I believe that even right-wing western Europeans today are smarter than to take Putin at face value. That was maybe the case up until the invasion of Ukraine, but not today in face of the increasingly threatening rhetoric, the downing of MH17 and near misses over the Baltic Sea and off the British Isles. Interestingly, exactly the same people who rant about Islamophobia as soon as there is a new arrest of terror suspects, have begun to rant about Russophobia as well, as soon as any of this Russian sabre rattling stir up a debate about any increase to our dwindling defense budgets.

    Either Kremlin has just found the IS/AQ ideology to be an effective example to copy for their “anti-Atlantic” revolutionary avant garde, or there is a more long term plan to adapt Orthodoxy for internal purposes (Eurasia), to even out the differences to Islam, but there certainly seem to be active on-going preparations to take part in a “jihad” against the West in a consorted move with “the fifth and sixth columns”.

    Luckily, Saudi doesn’t seem to be in on it.

    1. 20committee says:

      If you think the Kremlin is templating AQ/IS….get help.

      1. Sid says:

        I’ll agree with you, my newly found moderator, about this 🙂 (I agree with lots you said anyways, just not everything, Putin and Russia as a whole has been target of NATO since the Gladio OPs before when it was the USSR and now Gladio B, which uses muslim terrorism to destabilise central asia and the caucasus, and now Ukraine it seems, which came out of the left field.

        All this because Obama didn’t like having his face saved by Russia when they were about to attack Syria under false pretenses (even the mainstream news, like CBC were saying, how strange of a timing / stupid move of Assad if he did it as UN chemical weapons inspectors arrived, the very same day even then). I’ll refer to the Salafists IS youtube video from a couple years ago where they are gassing 2 rabbits in a tank saying “you’re next Assad” with what could be Sarin. Even if we discount rumours of Qatar or Saudi Arabia giving the rebels chemical weapons shells (impossible to discount most salafists of IS are funded by these 2 countries though, and Turkey too, where a lot of their terrorist training camps are), they were most likely stolen material from the Syrian military who then agreed to destroy it’s chemical weapons and sign the chemical weapons treaty of the UN (they didn’t want to because Israel didn’t sign it either, or maybe they did, but the Knesset didn’t ratify it, so it means nothing if they signed it or not).

  23. Alex K. says:

    What amazes me is how incredibly fake Putin and his team come across in their newfound role as defenders of traditional values. They are the true postmodernists in this standoff, putting together a simulacrum of a traditionalist Russia, even though this is a country where virtually every tradition was forcibly and irreversibly ended by the Bolsheviks and whose society was subjected to a violent transformation unseen in the West. Now they are elevating a pompous German legal scholar to a great Russian mystic… another PoMo trick.

    Putin could be a sincere convert to Orthodoxy but his worldview, most likely, is that of a Soviet neophyte. As you have said, he is positioning himself as one of the old white sages of the West, as a conservative westerner. But as far as his values are concerned, Putin is not a Nixon or an Eisenhower or a Coolidge – not even a Jefferson Davies transplanted into 2014. Southern planters believed in liberty, property, due process and limited government – just not for all the people – whereas Putin has little genuine attachment to any of these. His quoting Ivan Ilyin is but a bad joke, like Hitler’s feigned admiration of Schopenhauer.

    A legal scholar and philosopher by training, Ilyin saw rule of law as a cornerstone of future Russian statehood, although his understanding was probably Continental rather than Anglo-Saxon. Putin’s rule by law – “for our friends, everything; for our enemies, the law” – is exactly the opposite. After WWII, Ilyin wrote tedious articles detailing how to put Russia back on track, e.g. how to hold the first election after the fall of communism. I wonder if Putin paid any attention to what Ilyin had to say about former security agents. Has Putin wondered what Ilyin meant by “honor” and how the KGB code of conduct measures up to that old-fashioned notion?

    Then there is the issue of Ilyin’s un-Russianness and his dubious Christianity. Some of Ilyin’s plans read like General Weyrother’s reading the Austerlitz battle disposition in “War and Peace”: “Die erste Kolonne marschiert… die zweite Kolonne marschiert… die dritte Kolonne marschiert…” That’s not just a skin-deep stylistic matter. To quote Nikolai Berdyaev: “Ilyin’s views on the state, on man, on freedom are perfectly un-Christian and anti-Christian. They are rooted in the false philosophy of idealistic monism… Ilyin is not a Russian thinker; he is alien to the best traditions of our national thought…” Berdyaev’s critique is worth reading in full.

    1. 20committee says:

      Superb insights — Ilyin was indeed a lawyer and lawyerly, for all his messianic Orthodoxy. Thanks.

  24. adr. PawelB says:

    A small part of me thinks Putin is putting this money away for overseas aid. After all, Russia contributes virtually nil until the past few years to help other countries at times of need. The US closely followed by the UK contributes tens of billions more to disaster relief when it occurs and for many years. Perhaps Putin will use the money to help Russia invent something? After all, Fabergé eggs haven’t exactly put Russia on the industrial or technological path to greatness.

  25. Paul Stetsenko says:

    Oh, wow. This is the best analysis I have read in months. All very precise and clear.

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