Acton Institute Powerblog

Is Putin an Orthodox Jihadist?

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42474223_abbfd18c5cWhat should Westerners make of Vladimir Putin?

Some view the Russian president as a type of Western democratic politician while others think he is shaped by Chekism, the idea that the secret political police control (or should control) everything in society. But John R. Schindler, an Orthodox Christian, thinks the West may be underestimating the influence of militant Russian Orthodoxy on Putin’s worldview:

In his fire-breathing speech to the Duma in March when he announced Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin included not just venerable KGB classics like warnings about the Western Fifth Column and “national traitors,” but also paeans to explicit Russian ethnic nationalism buttressed by Orthodox mysticism, with citations of saints from millennia past. This was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy. Behind the Chekist sword and shield lurks the Third Rome, forming a potent and, to many Russians, plausible worldview. That this take on the planet and its politics is intensely anti-Western needs to be stated clearly.

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Whether this faith is genuine or a well-honed pose, Putin’s potent fusion of KGB values and Orthodoxy has been building for years, though few Westerners have noticed. Early in Putin’s years in the Kremlin, the younger generation of Federal Security Service (FSB) officers embraced a nascent ideology they termed “the system” (sistema), which was a sort of elitist Chekism — toughness free of corruption and based in patriotism — updated for the new 21st century. However, this could have limited appeal to the masses, so its place was gradually taken by a doctrine termed “spiritual security.” This involved the ideological fusion of the FSB and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), culminating in the 2002 dedication of an Orthodox church at the Lubyanka, the FSB — and former KGB’s — notorious Moscow headquarters. It suddenly became fashionable for senior FSB officers to have conversion experiences, while “spiritual security” offered Putin’s Russia a way to defend itself against what it has long seen as the encroachment of decadent post-modern Western values. Just how seriously Putin took all this was his statement that Russia’s “spiritual shield” was as important to her security as her nuclear shield.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

Comments

  • Don’t know much about Putin’s ideology, but it seems clear his taking of Crimea and support for Ukrainian rebels were done in response to aggressive US foreign policy. Russia watched helplessly as the US took down the Soviet supported government in Afghanistan through the mujahideen. Next came Iraq then Syria. Russia drew the line at Syria. Then the US instigated a coup of the legitimately elected government in Ukraine on Russia’s border. That threatened Russia’s friends and sphere of influence as well as endangering their warm water port in the Black Sea.

    The US has decided Russia’s concerns about its security and influence through friendly governments are unimportant. The US will impose its will upon every nation on the planet. Putin has a lot of faults, but his reactions to aggressive US policy is merely in Russia’s self-interest as Putin sees it.

    I was listening to an interview with Senator Jim Inhofe on the armed services committee in which he described a US state department led coup in an African country. The coup in Ukraine was state department led as well. If the US doesn’t rein in the state department they could easily ignite WWIII.