Staunton, June 8 – For the second time in less than a month, Vladimir Putin has taken actions that appear to put him at odds with his own government. First, he called those who raided the Gogol Theater “fools;” and then he has given the Order of Family Glory to two Jehovah’s Witnesses from Karelia, an organization that Moscow has banned as “extremist.”
Yesterday, the Kremlin announced that the Russian president had presented this award, which goes to women with five or more children, on May 31 to eight couples. Two of them, Valery Tatyana Novik, are Jeohvah’s Witnesses who together have eight children (politsovet.ru/55545-putin-nagradil-ordenom-svideteley-iegovy.html).
The website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia yesterday identified the women as members of that religious group which was banned by Russian courts in April. It further reported that Valery Novik in his response to Putin had chosen to recite verses from the Bible (jw-russia.org/news/17060606-176.html).
What does all this mean? There are at least three possible explanations. First, Putin as so often happens is trying to have it both ways, banning an organization but seeking to present himself especially to audiences abroad as a defender of religious denominations which encourage what he defines as “traditional values.”
Second, the Kremlin simply may have slipped up and included the Witnesses because they qualified without going into their religious backgrounds. This seems unlikely but is possible given that the Karelian officials might have forwarded their names without giving any additional information, and no on in Moscow checked.
Or third, it may simply reflect Russia’s demographic decline. There are now so few Russian families which have that many children that the Kremlin leader may have wanted or been forced to include some that he might otherwise have excluded, a pattern suggested by a consideration of the other 7 couples who were on the list (kremlin.ru/supplement/5196).
Three of these seven were from non-Russian republics and regions. Adding the pair from Karelia, the number from non-Russian areas equaled the number from the predominantly Russian ones, even though the latter form some 80 percent of the population of the Russian Federation.
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