Sunday, December 31, 2017

How Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov Became ‘a Sechin in Priestly Robes’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – Over the course of the last year, Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov continued to be identified as spiritual advisor to Vladimir Putin, was identified as a competitor to Patriarch Kirill and organizer of the Kirill Serebrennikov case, and now appears to have made himself into “a Sechin in priestly robes,” according to Zoya Svetova.

            In a 5700-word article, the journalist explores how this has come about and what role the man she calls “the main ideologue of reaction” may play not only next year but further into the future on the basis of an interview with the Bishop as well as with many of those who know him (

                At first, he refused but when Svetova said she wanted to talk about her mother, religious writer Zoya Krakhmalnikov, who in 1983 was imprisoned and exiled for the publication of her collection of religious writings in the West, he agreed. The two spoke ten minutes about Zoya and an hour about everything else.  (For the interview, see

            According to Svetova, Shevkunov grew up without a father and then after finishing school in 1977 entered a training program to be a film maker.  He visited various religious groups and was attracted to Orthodoxy. He joined and was taken on by the Patriarchate to help with making films for the millennium of Russian Orthodoxy in 1988.

            From his earliest years, friends recall that he had close relations with and may even have been recruited by the KGB. In 1990, he published an article in Sovetskaya Rossiya arguing that “a democratic state will always try to weaken the most influential Church in the country by applying the ancient principle of ‘divide and rule.’”

            In August 1991 at the time of the coup, he became a hieromonk and in November 1993, Patriarch Aleksii put Shevkunov in charge of the Sretensky monastery at the Lubyanka because he and the organs wanted someone each side felt comfortable with.  At that time, the new priest was known as a passionate monarchist, his acquaintances recall.

            Shevkunov began talking about Putin when the latter was named prime minister and the rumors that the two were close by virtue of background and views began to spread.  In 2003, Shevkunov rather than the patriarch accompanied the Russian president to the US and helped him promote the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and Moscow.

            Since then Shevkunov has become ever more important. He now is in charge of the commission investigating the murder of the Imperial Family, where he has attracted attention by talking about the possibility that the murders were some kind of Satanic “ritual.”  He has confessed Putin and he oversaw the building of a church in Putin’s Novo-Ogaryevo residence.

            One of his followers, Lina Starostina, recalls that “in one of his homilies, Father Tikhon said that finally the Lord had given Russia a believer as president and now it can build an Orthodox state. I understand now that his goal was an Orthodox Taliban, an Orthodox empire” because the churchman has always been “a man of ideas.”

            Like many prominent church leaders, Shevkunov has been actively involved in economic affairs as well as publishing.  Hi book, “Unholy Saints,” has gone through 14 editions totally millions of copies and earned him enormous sums. He says he has donated all of the earnings to the construction of churches.

            Svetova spoke with many experts on the church about Shevkunov.  Sergey Pugachev said that the bishop is now “afraid of his own shadow” and that he believes that “the Westernizers wanat to destroy our country … In general, he is like Igor Sechin, only in priestly robes.” And he can be “very harsh” in dealing with those he views as below them or as his enemies.

            Journalist Sergey Chaplin says that Shevkunov has become “the main interpreter of Russian history” for the powers that be.  Nikolay Mitrokhin, a researcher on Orthodoxy, points out that Shevkunov did not become bishop when one would have expected because many in the church still don’t like those with ties in the organs.

            But the FSB people “like to have their own priest” and have helped him when they can, the church researcher says.

            Aleksandr Soldatov, the editor of, agrees and suggests that Shevkunov was consecrated bishop only on the insistence of the Presidential Administration.  He sees a great future for Shevkunov even though according to the rules of the church, the bishop hasn’t played all the roles a patriarch is supposed to have.

            But “if it is necessary, the rules can be rewritten,” he says.

            One priest speaking on conditions of anonymity says that “Shevkunov symbolizes the conservative wing in the ROC. He is a pragmatist and a romantic at one and the same time. His chief idea is Russia as an Orthodox country, and chekists who have joined the church are good Chekists.”

                “He really loves the Church more than he loves Christ, and this is dangerous.” If Shevkunov is forced to make a choice, there is little question as to which side he’ll come down on. Another churchman, Father Iosif Kiperman shares that view and sees Shevkunov as part and parcel of a larger chekist project.

            “The chekists from the very beginning thought aobut building a Soviet church in order that parishioners would become Soviet people. They wanted to leave the external form of the church as it was but change everything inside.  Tikhon [Shevkunov] is one of these Soviet people” and he’s ready to realize this “last idea” of the devil.

Post-1991 Russia Ended Soviet-Style Horizontal Coordination Without Putting Anything in Its Place, Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – Coordination among institutions at all levels is “the most important condition for the normal work of bureaucrats” but “in contemporary Russia, things in this regard are in worse shape than they were in the USSR,” according to Kirill Titayev and Darya Dimke.

            The two scholars from St. Petersburg’s European University say that explains why things like the construction of a playground with no toilets nearby or the opening of a park a kilometer from the nearest bus stop now happen: there is no basis for coordination among the various groups responsible (

            “The Soviet system of state administration had many minuses,” they write, but “it had its own internal logic” and that logic was not as “authoritarian and vertical as it is typically presented today.” On the one hand, every institution was subordinate within a pyramid; but on the other, two institutions – the soviets and the party structures – allowed them to coordinate.

            Had those coordinating bodies not existed, “the system simply could not have worked at all.” It would have collapsed. But the soviets and the party committees in which all the key institutions were represented allowed the groups to talk to each other, something made even more necessary and possible by the multiple subordinations of many primary institutions.

            “The reforms of the 1990s expelled from this system all the mechanisms of horizontal coordination,” the two scholars say. And as a result, “the new society which the reformers built inherited the vertical nature of its predecessor but destroyed practically all systems of horizontal coordination.”

            That means that “we live not in the Soviet Union but in an administrative reality which would have seemed a nightmare to any Soviet bureaucracy because it lacks practically all of the local mechanisms of coordination.” As a result,” we see playgrounds in cities beyond the Arctic circle and police struggles against drunkenness in Muslim regions with traditionally low levels of alcohol consumption.

            “Having destroyed ‘the diktat of party organs,’ the reforms did not think up any mechanisms of horizontal coordination which could take the place of those which had been destroyed. In the economy, this problem was more of less solved by means of privatization.” But in state administration, a huge whole has been left unfilled.

            If local governments were stronger and controlled more of their own resources, this might not have mattered as much as it does; But there are few cities which earn enough to pay their own pay; and to get money from Moscow, they have to cede control to the center without any chance at coordination.

            Consequently, the two write, “for any successful reforms, the creation of mechanisms of horizontal coordination and the weakening of vertical pressure are vitally necessary. Otherwise w will remain living in a worsened version of the Soviet Union.”

Putin’s Russia Now ‘an Empire of Lies,’ not ‘an Evil Empire,’ Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – At the everyday level, Vladimir Pastukhov says, it is unlikely that Russians lie more than people in other countries do; but in the public sphere, the lie is not criticized but rather encouraged,” making it “almost the norm of public politics not only in the eyes of the authorities but in those of the population as well.

            There are many reasons for the official “condescension toward lies,” the St. Antony’s College historian says, including of course the attitudes of the Russian Orthodox Church.  But the main explanations are to be found in the fact that “Russians have always viewed themselves as a cultural minority” forced to fight a stronger opponent (

                “In Russia, a lie is viewed as a weapon of the weak against the strong,” Pastukhov continues, “as a justified means of defense against overwhelming force.”  The real problem [with them] is that Russians are often happy that they are lying” and thus view “the lie as an alternative truth.”

            This may be one of the reasons why the word “pravda” doesn’t correspond with “istina” and why “in Russia it can be something which corresponds to reality and also something which doesn’t correspond.”  Indeed, the historian says, “the just lie in Russia is valued above the unjust truth.”

            “In Russia, they lie with missionary-like ecstasy,” Pastukhov suggests.  And that is the basis of hypocrisy among Russians, “a manifestation of the feeling of incompleteness relative to the strong of this world, a slavish habit which has roots going back to serfdom.”

            And it gets in the way of Russians adequately understanding their real relationship to the outside world: “While constantly talking about the greatness of Russia, many Russians in the depths of their souls do not believe in the ability of their country to defend its independence without using lies.”

            After 1991, the lie was mostly a matter for internal use in Russia, but in the last few years, Pastukhov argues, it has spread to foreign affairs as well. “Certainly, some of the personal qualities of Vladimir Putin made this possible,” as can be seen when the lie returned in full force at the time of the sinking of the Kursk.

            “The unwillingness or inability of Putin to resolve the crisis by telling the truth about what had happened led then to the first serious split of the post-Yeltsin elite” and opened the way to the destruction of Russia’s independent media, first electronic and more recently the print media as well.

                Now, “the lie accompanies practically any Kremlin action, be it war with terrorism or prominent court cases,” Pastukhov says. By the beginning of Putin’s third term, “the level of lies in Russian public policy had reached critical mass” and led to a shift from retail lying to organized whole lying with trolls and so on.

            “Present-day Russia adopted the tactic of the Komintern,” a tactic which “consists in the creation of artificial contradictions and the intensification of natural contradictions between Western countries and also between political parties within each of the Western countries in particular.”

            The Kremlin uses lies both offensively and defensively, Pastukhov says, and today in essence “Russia does everything that it accuses the West of doing, from unleashing a cold war to the preparation of ‘color revolutions.’”  The Russian people know what is going on but support their regime without “the slightest moral discomfort.”

            Such a situation when a society is caught up in a web of lies from top to bottom is hardly unique to Russia now. “Something similar occurred in Russia at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.” Indeed, “this is one of the truest signs of the unavoidability of a revolution which will destroy this web of lying together with the entire old order.”

            Churchill supposedly said that “there is no anti-Semitism in England” because “we do not consider ourselves more stupid than the Jews.” And lies will be driven out of the public sphere in Russia only when “elites appear who do not suffer from a sense of inferiority to the West or East and don’t therefore need the lie for salvation.”