Staunton, May 26 – The new Union of Orthodox Military-Patriotic and Sports Organizations, Nikolay Mitrokhin says, is “a classic Russian club combining the interests of the special services, the criminalized or those suspected of links to criminal business, and the church all presented in a patriotic package.”
As such, the Bremen University specialist on the Russian Orthodox Church says, the group has an ostensibly praiseworthy purpose of giving opportunities to poor children; but all too often, he continues, it gives those poor children within its ranks to fight others in the name of what their leaders want (sova-center.ru/religion/publications/2016/05/d34626/).
And while Mitrokhin does not draw the parallel in this comment to the SOVA center, such groups inevitably invite comparisons with the far-right groups like the Union of the Russian People and the Union of the Archangel Michael which the church supported before the revolution and which it, together with the state, used to terrorize the population.
Clubs like the ones the new union brings together have existed for 15 years, the researcher says. They are supposedly intended to give “youths from problem families” opportunities so that they won’t get in trouble on the streets but have a new purpose in their lives. To the extent they are that, he adds, they are worthy of praise.
But “at the same time,” Mitrokhin continues, such young people “can be used as a defensive force against other young people” whom the church and perhaps the state behind it view as a threat. Then, such clubs can only be condemned as a threat to the country’s constitutional order.
There is an additional problem, he says, about which many prefer not to speak: “When under-age children are constantly in a monastery, the question arise about their possible sexual exploitation, also a reality of present-day Orthodoxy.”
The directions this new union may go are possibly indicated by its leadership. Among them is Oleg Lisov, a former internal forces soldier with the Sofrinsky brigade who worked closely with Gazprom and is suspected of having ties “also with other criminal structures” as well as with pro-military Kremlin structures.
“For the church,” Mitrokhin continues, “this is a quite typical situation” in which it has connections to extremist nationalist and even criminal groups, but exactly what these ties are in the present case, he says, requires more investigation before any final conclusions can be drawn with certainty.
There are precedents, however. “This is not the first such union of this kind: they appear approximately once every two years,” when government grants run out and when groups have to compete for new ones, Mitrokhin points out. How active such entities are depends on financing, and of course, the monastery in Moscow has sufficient funds for the new union to be very active.
Just how “socially dangerous” are these groups? “This depends both on the approach of the isntructors and on the concrete situations where they can manifest their aggression.” In principle, such groups could play a positive role; but if the instructors are “professional soldier[s]” or policemen, then “not infrequently” from these groups emerge “bandits or Nazis.”
But beyond any doubt, this new Orthodox grouping is part and parcel of a larger phenomenon, the privatization of force in Russia, something that increases the criminal situation in the country and allows the Kremlin to attack its enemies with plausible deniability. (For discussions, see dw.com/p/1ItsB and echo.msk.ru/programs/exit/1770106-echo/.)
As such, this group and others like should be subject to the closest scrutiny.