Sunday, February 17, 2019

Moscow’s Attack on Religious Groups Means West May Again View Russia as the Evil Empire, ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 17 – Moscow’s recent moves against religious groups, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say, mean that the West may again define the country centered on Moscow as “an evil empire,” a term introduced by Ronald Reagan that the paper says had more to do with religion than with ethnicity (

            As a matter of history, that reading is not without its problems: The US president talked about the nations living under Soviet control and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Captive Nations Week resolution.  But the parallels between the 1980s and now that the Moscow paper draws are important for two reasons. 

            On the one hand, it reflects a trend among Russian writers to treat ethnicity as a less important factor in the past and present than religion and to view what happened at the end of Soviet times as the result of religious divides more than just between ethnic ones. This notion is also not without problems, as ethnicity and religion are far from coterminous.

            And on the other – and this is far and away the more important – Nezavisimaya gazeta is quite correct to point out that Reagan frequently directed his talk about the Soviet Union as “the evil empire” at American evangelicals, “having in mind,” the paper’s editors say, “the struggle of the communists with religion.”

            Evangelical groups were among the most enthusiastic supporters of this idea and helped keep it alive until it became a mainstream notion – although to be accurate, Reagan’s real contribution to the struggle was to call the USSR an “evil” empire, something that allowed his liberal opponents to drop the evil but nonetheless retain the empire idea.

            What the paper doesn’t say at least on this occasion is this: if evangelical Christians conclude the current Russian policies against religion make the Russian Federation the evil empire of today, they could become the basis for a tectonic shift in American opinion about Russia toward greater concern not only with religious rights but with ethnic ones as well.

            And that is especially likely because the evangelical Christians in the US are the most reliable part of the base of Donald Trump, the most pro-Russian US president in history. If the current incumbent of the White House concludes that his base has turned on Russia, he is quite likely judging from his other policy shifts to follow them.

            That could further intensify negative American attitudes about Russia and make it more rather than less likely that those attitudes will continue both in the population and in the political elite far longer into the future than anyone in Moscow expects, yet another way in which the Kremlin’s domestic policies are backfiring abroad. 

Moscow Patriarchate Won’t Allow Many of Its Priests in Ukraine to Return to Russia: It Wants Martyrs, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 15 – Now that more than 300 parishes have shifted from the Moscow church in Ukraine to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, many of the priests involved have sought to return to Russia; but the Moscow Patriarchate is limiting that flow because it wants to have martyrs in Ukraine, according to experts.

            URA journalists Stanislav Zakharkin and Mikhail Bely say that the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are seeking to have as many parishes as possible make this shift and to see Moscow loyalists among the Orthodox clergy leave the country for Russia (

                Some Russian commentators, like Kirill Rogov of the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries, and Sergey Petrov, a specialist on religious affairs, say that Russian priests are at risk of physical reprisal in Ukraine and not surprisingly want to leave. But the numbers who have actually fled are still quite small.

            According to the former head of the ROC MP’s department for church and society relations Vsevolod Chaplin, only about “10 to 20 ‘refugees’” from Ukraine are now back in the Russian Federation.  The ROC MP makes that hard because it requires that parish priests get authorization from their bishops, something the bishops rarely give.

            According to Petrov, “the ROC has taken the position that its priests in Ukraine must remain in their own country despite mortal danger. The logic here is this: each pastor is a soldier and he must accept any tests.”  Christ did not run from danger, and priests must not either, the religious specialist says the ROC MP believes.

            Moscow’s position on this, however, may backfire. If priests who have been loyally service the Russian church in Ukraine come to realize that that church isn’t going to protect them, then at least some of them may be even more ready to change sides, something that will only accelerate the pace at which the Ukrainian national church will take shape. 

Does Putinism Even Exist? Experts Disagree

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 16 – Vladislav Surkov’s recent article has sparked discussions in Russia as to the nature of Putinism and even whether Putinism as an ideology and praxis even exists. Kazan’s Business-Gazeta surveyed eleven Russian and Tatar experts. Their answers capture a large part of this discussion (

·         Yevgeny Minchenko of the International Institute for Political Consulting, says that Putin as a judo master has not ideology. And Surkov’s asserting that he doesn’t is “the only phrase” in his article with which one can agree.  “Putin would be very surprised if he were called a Putinist.”  Putin came with the desire to “save Russia” and he has tried out various means to do so, discarding those that didn’t work. He has no master plan.   

·         Viktor Minin, a political technologist, agrees. Putin does not have an ideology but continually maneuvers, seeking to protect himself and his country. “He retreats like Kutuzov and wins time. But there hasn’t yet been a Borodino and therefore no decisive battle so far.”

·         Maksim Kalashnikov, a futurologist commentator, disagrees. He says Putinism consists in “the preservation of an economy based on the export of raw materials and stagnation in scientific-technical development, the shift of the economy in whatever way will support war and the enrichment of the elite, support for the security agencies as the core of the state, the destruction of courts and legislative bodies, and the promotion of feudalism which involves “first the degradation of the masses and then of the rulers.”  Even the ethnic Russians, the state-forming people, have been reduced to second-class citizens. “Naturally, there is no ideology of the future.”

·         Vladislav Zhukovsky, an economist, says that Surkov has offered nothing new. He is simply trying to attract the attention and praise of his boss.  Everything in his article is propaganda and political manipulation to try to suppress any protest.  But whether Surkov and his bosses like it or not, the oppressed people are beginning to wake up.

·         Mikhail Veller, a writer and commentator, says that Putinism is usually associated with negative things – economic decline, increasing repression, and harsh conflict with the West.  Surkov has tried to capture the term and include within it only good things – the territorial integrity of the country, the spiritual firmness of is people, and Moscow’s opposition to the decaying West.  But in fact, all Surkov offers is a more sophisticated version of Vyacheslav Volodin’s suggestion that Russia exists as long as Putin does because without Putin, there will be no Russia. There is no reason to take his arguments seriously.

·         Valentin Katasonov, an economist, says that Putinism is generally used by Russia’s opponents as the functional equivalent of Hitlerism.  Surkov wants to change that, but what he is talking about does not constitute an ideology.

·         Iskander Izmaylov, a Tatarstan historian, says that Surkov’s words are “a quite ordinary edition of the much-ballyhooed principle of ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.” It thus turns out “that the ideology of Putinism is a return to empire and to imperial ambitions,” something very far from the constitution or worldwide trends.  Empires are not going to be the future of humanity.  And Surkov is deceiving himself about the people. The Russians in 1917 began on their knees before the little father tsar but then they rose up and shot him together with his unhappy family.”

·         Viktor Yerofeyev, a writer, also says there is “nothing new in Putinism or in Surkov’s essay either. In general, this is a repetition of Alexander III and Pobedonostev with a certain addition of Stalinism.”

·         Marat Bikmullin, head of the Information Systems company, says that “Putinism is whneparliament and all organs of power become imitations, although wars remain real.” As such, “this policy has no future.” Putin was fine for a recovering state but he should have left the scene long ago. “The moor has done his work; the moor can go.”

·         Marsel Shamsutdiinov, a Tatar leader of the Parnas Party, says that Putinism is nothing more than the latest edition of feudalism. 

·         And Pavel Smakov, head of the SOlNTse School, says that Putinism encompasses what Putin does. It consists of a harsh centralized rule. “I like democracy,” Smakov says; “but it doesn’t work. With us, a harsh system which rules an enormous country and which works so that all will submit does. Without popular risings, scandals and conflicts.”