Russia: Orthodox by Culture, Imperialist by Nature

February 23, 2024

Monika Palotai, RFI Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom Policy, co-authored an article with Kristóf György Veres, a Senior Research Fellow at the Danube Institute, for Providence Magazine titled, “Russia: Orthodox by Culture, Imperialist by Nature.” Palotai and Veres explain how Russia’s national security doctrine has infiltrated and taken over the Orthodox church, and how this is a crucial element for understanding Russia’s tactics and the current war. They write:

Listening to Republican Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s comments at the 3rd Republican primary debate or Tucker Carlson’s October interview with Robert Amsterdam, one might easily get the message that Putin is a hero and Zelensky a tyrant. Ramaswamy and Carlson both believe there is no reason for Ukraine to ever restrict the activities of any Christian group within its territory, no matter what. We beg to differ.

The Ukrainian parliament’s move to restrict the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), the Eastern Orthodox church in Ukraine historically linked to the Russian Orthodox Church currently led by Patriarch Kirill, once again shows that the cultural/religious landscape in Eastern Europe is a totally essential yet completely misunderstood element of the war. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is not a church in the sense that most Americans understand Christian congregations as distinct entities from the government. In the Kremlin’s playbook, the ROC is an extension of the state and should therefore act like it, at home and abroad. For Putin, religion represents no inherent value; it is just another tool of warfare, another cog in Russia’s war machine. Current and aspiring policymakers in the West need to understand that in wartime, churches that essentially operate as propaganda arms and agents of an invading foreign power should be treated as such.

All in all, the succession of [Russia’s National Security Concept]’s clearly demonstrates how the lines between church and state have been blurred to satisfy Putin’s imperial ambitions.  The motivation to maintain spiritual authority in Ukraine is a national security imperative and a legal and moral obligation for Russia. Therefore, the ROC’s continued presence in Ukraine through the UOC-MP in Ukraine can be interpreted as a matter of national security amid Russian aggression.  War is not only fought on the green pastures of Ukraine. In Putin’s multidomain war, religion has become a battlefield affirmed by Russia’s National Security Strategy. 

Read the full article: “Russia: Orthodox by Culture, Imperialist by Nature.”