Staunton, July 5 – Over the last few days, Vladimir Putin has signed into law a series of measures that will allow the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church to become wealthier in compensation for the fact that it is losing both its remaining independence from the state and its membership as well, Aleksandr Soldatov says.
Little remains of the 1997 Russian law on religious organizations, the Moscow commentator says. It has been amended so often as to gut it as far as a law is concerned and has left the status of religion in fact completely at odds with the provisions of the Russian Constitution (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/07/05/bog-dal-bog-vozmet-pobolshe).
But Putin’s moves in the last week reflect a general pattern he has followed for two decades: enriching those who have surrendered their independence and who have a smaller base, in this case, people attending church, than ever before. Such institutions look impressive and their leaders are often satisfied, but they have been reduced to transmission belts for the regime.
On the one hand, Putin’s first measure specifies that only the ROC MP has the right to reclaim property held by the Orthodox Church in the past. No other Orthodox group can now seek to claim such property even if it originally was created by a different part of the Orthodox world.
And on the other, two other laws free the ROC MP from taxes on land even if the church hasn’t developed it and blocks the government from inspecting the church’s books for tax purposes thus allowing the Patriarchate to hide its income more easily and grow wealthier in the process.
But while Putin was making these concessions to the church, he signed laws that will require any Orthodox priest trained abroad to requalify in a Russian higher educational institution and guides to Orthodox facilities to be trained in Russia as well, thus giving the government a whip hand in a key aspect of the church’s activities.
All this is occurring, Soldatov says, at a time when Russians are leaving the church in droves and when many object to the ROC MP’s land grabs.