Saturday, December 31, 2016

Russia Ends 2016 with a Civic Religion Lacking Any Foundation in Faith, Soldatov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 31 – Russia now has a civic religion, Russian Orthodoxy, that lacks any foundation in religious faith because the Russian state is hostile to both genuine believers and committed atheists, viewing them as threats to the stability of the Putin regime, according to Aleksandr Soldatov of the religious affairs site, Portal-Credo.

            “If in 2014-2914, the world around [Russians] was destroyed to quickly and irreversibly that it caused shock,” the religious affairs expert says in his year-end roundup, “then in 2016 this destruction became something viewed as normal and passed into a phase of ‘stagnation’” (

                “A new ‘banalization of evil’” has occurred in Russia with the Russian-Ukrainian war, he writes.  And one of the consequences of that is that “there are ever fewer people on the post-Soviet space” whose lives are informed by religious faith or who believe in “the possibility of any ‘religious rebirth’ in general. And this too is the banalization of evil,” Soldatov says.

            Many used to talk about “’spiritual ties’” but “now one must write about the Yarovaya law,” whose inspiration and application has undermined faith even if it is intended to strengthen religious organizations. Unfortunately, he continues, the appearance of this law follows “a definite ‘logic of history.’”

            “Before 1917, religion was the official ideology of Russia, and this was ‘pre-secularism.’ After 1917, the official ideology of Russian became the denial of religion, and this was ‘secularism,’ often extremely bloody.” One of its consequences was the birth of a church ready to put “religion in the service of atheism,” the precursor of the current leadership.

            According to Soldatov, “after unsuccessful attempts at ‘a return to origins’ in the early 1990s, everything finally took its place: the forerunners lived up to their mission and a time of the triumph of Orthodox atheism” occurred, one that reflected what Moscow wanted when it organized the new patriarchate in 1943.

            Consequently, “if before 1917, the Russian state prohibited its subjects to be atheists and after 1917 to be believers, now it prohibits both the one and the other. Is this an absurdity, a paradox, or a nonsense? No: welcome to the never seen before reality of ‘post-secularism’!”

            As reflected in the Yarovaya laws, Russian state policy is “equally hostile both to convinced atheists and convinced believers.” The regime views both as potential obstacles to the mobilization of the population by means of convincing its members that they can only do so if they do not insist on their own beliefs but simply accept those the state requires.

            “In order to avoid cursed fanaticism which is now held to be equivalent to extremism and terrorism, what is needed is a religion without dogma and atheism without nihilism” – but with a commitment to avoid getting involved in politics except to support whatever the regime wants when it wants it.

            This “post-modernism and post-secularism Russian style,” Soldatov says, is one in which “the private life of ‘the little man’ is not without fear but without serious plans, hopes and prospects.”  It is in fact “the life of a vegetable,” supported by the regime’s force structures to keep things in line.

            The Moscow Patriarchate, “acting within the limits of the paradigm of ‘post-secularism,’ does not try to influence politics or get involved in theological disputes. As a completely pragmatic organization, which the Kremlin finds especially valuable, it quietly extends its trade network” but does nothing to promote faith.

            “It is obvious,” Soldatov concludes, “that in such an unfree political society, it cannot act without official approval” and that includes allied “’Orthodox activists’” who may appear independent but in fact are doing the work of the regime but not that of the Lord in their attacks on others.

‘Reforms Lead to Revolution’ – How Debates about Russia’s Past Will Define Its Future

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 31 – In a country where talking about the present or the future directly can land one in difficulty with the powers that be, Russians increasingly are making policy arguments in terms of events in Russian history, a trend that will only intensify in the coming centennial year of the 1917 revolutions.

            As citizens of other countries know, that opens the way not only to misinterpretations of the past in the name of policy advocacy but to the twin errors of overlearning from the past and thus committing equal or opposite errors or forgetting its lessons altogether and flying blindly into the future.

            But for good or ill, Russian policy debates are increasingly going to be cast in historical terms, and it is thus going to be a requirement that analysts both in Russia and elsewhere recall the facts about various historical events they may not have thought about for some time in order to understand what is likely to happen next.

            An article yesterday by Valentin Katonosov on the Russian nationalist Strategic Culture Foundation portal about the relationship between the reforms of Sergey Witte before World War I and the Russian revolutions of 1917 is an instructive example of such discourse (

            “The approaching centenary of the revolution in Russia is a good occasion to yet again reflect upon why in history periodically occur events called ‘time of troubles,’ ‘a turnover in state power,’ or ‘a revolution,’” Katanosov says, both as far as 1917 is concerned and what events in that year says about others.

            He then argues that one of those most responsible for Russia’s slide into revolution was Sergey Witte. “Some call him a genius and put him alongside Petr Stolypin,” the Russian analyst says; “others (although unfortunately they are a minority) consider that by his reforms Witte led Russia to the revolution.” Katanosov says he is one of the latter.

            According to him, Witte’s “’contributions’ to the destruction of Russia” are quite large and numerous, including his role in the preparation of the October Manifesto and the negotiations in Portsmouth at the end of the Russo-Japanese war.  “But his main ‘contribution’ … became the so-called monetary reform of 1897” when he put Russia on the gold standard.

            Many praise him for doing this because it triggered a massive influx of foreign capital and the growth of certain sectors of the economy, but Katanosov suggests, “this was industrialization in the framework of the model of dependent capitalism.” As a result, Russia became more indebted to foreign bankers, and it was sovereign rather than private debt.

            That debt amounted to 8.5 billion gold rubles in mid-1914 and had the effect of putting the country “under the tight control of world lenders and put it at risk of finally losing its sovereignty – and all of this is thanks to Witte’s efforts.”  Although he left the post of finance minister in 1903, he had launched “the mechanism for the destruction of Russia.”

            Whatever the truth of Katanosov’s argument, it prompts three more general comments about invoking past examples to urge a particular set of policies, as the Russian nationalist’s comments in this case clearly do.

            First, Katanosov is highly selective in the facts he adduces to make his case. Second, he does not suggest what alternative policies might have been pursued and what their effects might have been. And third, he falls victim to the fallacy of “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” of arguing that any event has been caused by whatever prior event one focuses on.

            There are going to be many more such “historical” discussions in the coming year: their limitations should be remembered not only by Russian policy makers but by analysts, Russian and otherwise, who are trying to figure out where Putin’s Russia is headed next.

Former Soviet Republics Must and Will Become Russia’s ‘Protectorates,’ Moscow Blogger Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 31 – Given loose talk among some in the West about recognizing a Russian sphere of influence over the former Soviet space, a Moscow blogger has brought back yet another term from the past to describe what he says should be the basis for the future: These countries, Aleksandr Khaldey argues, can and will again become Russian protectorates.

            On his blog yesterday, Khaldey argues that “the specific characteristic of Russia as a civilizational-state formation consists in the following: it in principle cannot be a peripheral nothing. [Instead, it] can live survive only as a center” of something much larger and more powerful that dominates weaker states around it (

            “Russia always was a sovereign surrounded by vassals,” and the latter never could or can exist independently, he says. If they try to escape from Russia’s orbit, they can only become protectorates or colonies of other powers hostile to Russia.  Thus, Russia must ensure for its own survival that they become again its protectorates.

            “A protectorate,” Khaldey writes, is when a weak state is in formal dependence on a stronger one. “In its soft form, a PROTECTORATE the subordinate and dependent state formally retains its state system” but even then “supreme rule in the country really belongs to the stronger power.”

            He continues: “In a more harsh form, the subordinate exists in COLONIAL DEPENDENCY,’ where the patron state decides completely all aspects of the state system and the existence of the client state.  That is, one is speaking about the presence of external administration.”

            At present, Khaldey says, “Russia is struggling” to escape from being “an American protectorate” which he says the US imposed after the collapse of the USSR and thus its leaders understand full well what is at stake and why when they can, vassals – because that is what those in protectorates are -- throw off rule by a former sovereign.

            Russia’s temporary weakness is “coming to an end,” he continues; and Western efforts to “transform the country into the periphery of the Western global system are at the edge of collapse.” Consequently, Russia must work to restore itself as “one of the global civilizational centers” and restore its protectorates over its neighbors.

            The examples of protectorates Khaldey gives are suggestive and disturbing: the League of Nations mandate territories in the Middle East after World War I, Hitler’s protectorate over Bohemia and Moravia in 1939-1945, and Russia’s protectorate over the Karachay a century earlier. 

            “At present,” he suggests, “Abkhazia, South Osetia, the DNR and the LNR are Russian protectorates,” which all have a strong desire to become “a component part of Russia.” In some ways, Armenia is also “a protectorate of Russia.” And now Russia is seeking to make Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and later Georgia its protectorates as well.

            It isn’t yet “politically correct” to speak the word “protectorate” aloud, he says; “but all experts understand that in fact that is what is being discussed: all these former republics are clients of Russia” and they will become even more so as Russia’s economy grows and their trade with Moscow increases.

            There is “one obstacle” to this: many of the leaders of these weak states don’t want to become so obviously subordinate to Moscow; but Russia’s success in promoting that status is highlighted by their complaints.  Such whining to the West, however, will not “stop the machine of history.”

            And Khaldey concludes: “Russia will again be the protector for the former union republics” and they will soon recognize “the historical inevitability of this restoration and the hopelessness of resisting it.”