Friday, May 11, 2018

Follow the Money – Kleptocratic Values Now Inform Moscow’s Approach to Religion

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 11 – As a result of the outstanding scholarship by the late Karen Dawisha, most analysts in the West and many in Russia analyze Kremlin politics in terms of kleptocratic values, the desire of those around the center of power in Russia to enrich themselves even at enormous costs to the population.

            But that key insight has not always been extended to other parts of Russian officialdom and policy even though there is mounting evidence that the kleptocratic values are trickling down to inform other centers of power and other issues.  Three new pieces of evidence show that is happening in the religious sector.

            In the first, it is becoming ever clearer that the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church is worried about autocephaly for the Orthodox in Ukraine not just because it would reduce Moscow’s standing in the Eastern church by taking away half of its parishes but also because it would cost the Russian hierarchy money.

            Given that parishes and bishoprics within the Russian Orthodox Church pass upwards a significant portion of contributions and earnings, the exit of Orthodox groups out from under the Moscow Patriarchate would leave that church structure not only politically less significant but significantly poorer as well (

                That the Moscow Patriarchate is thinking more about income than many think is reflected in the second piece of evidence about the spread of kleptocratic values in this sector: the Patriarchate is now dividing up existing bishoprics because each one must pay a fixed sum to the center of the church (

            In the past, Patriarch Kirill pushed for an expansion in  the number of bishoprics largely so he could appoint new bishops and ensure majorities for himself and his position in church councils; but today he is unquestionably in charge and so appears to be doing this strictly for financial reasons, Portal-Credo experts say. 

            Indeed, they suggest, Kirill would probably find it easier to govern the church if there were fewer bishoprics than more; but if he moved in that direction, he would be costing himself and his hierarchy money, something he is very reluctant to do.

            And in the third case, the Polish issue of Newsweek reports that a major reason the Russian government chose to go after the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that it expected to be able to seize the assets of that group (,artykuly,426805,1.html).

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