The church under Putin: Nationalism and Russian Orthodoxy

Since the passing of the Soviet era, the Russian Orthodox Church has aligned itself closely with the Russian government and especially the nationalist strategies of Vladimir Putin. In the speeches of Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, “Orthodox civilization” is interchangeable with “Russian civilization.”

Following a long Russian Orthodox tradition, Kirill likes to contrast Russia with secular Western nations. In Belgrade in November 2014, the patriarch argued that Western nations had “abandoned their Christian identity.” He identified both liberal democracy and secularism as enemies of Orthodoxy and envisioned a “clash of civilization” in which Russian Orthodox values stood against those of the secular West.

Kirill’s vision of Russian civilization transcends Russia’s current boundaries, encompassing all Orthodox people “living in the countries of historical Rus’—namely Belorussia, Russia, and Ukraine.” The Orthodox Church had risen to the defense of Russia in the prerevolutionary past, he maintained, and it must do so again to defend the nation’s values and unity.