One of the objectives of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent pro-Western diplomacy is to reduce instability along Russia’s southern borders. In the troubled area to the north of Afghanistan are five predominantly Muslim countries—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
When he became president of Russia last year, Vladimir Putin disclosed that “when I was serving in the KGB in Germany, I always wore a cross under my shirt.” Whether or not one believes this astonishing claim, there is no doubt that Putin embraces the Russian Orthodox Church as a partner in his blueprint for a strong new Russia.
In the forest shrine, the meat of two rams and a goat cook in great cauldrons suspended from wooden frames. Cloth belts stained with the blood of these sacrificial animals hang from the trees. Higher up, the branches are festooned with votive offerings—items of clothing brought by people who claim to have been cured during earlier ritual sacrifices.