Paul Starobin, former head of the Moscow office work week writes a book about Russia.
In mid-March, several weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin appeared on stage before a crowd gathered at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
Russia’s head of state assumed the role of a pastoral leader, leading his national flock, and solemnly proceeded to consecrate his country’s fallen soldiers. paraphrase from “our Christian Bible”. “There is no love like when someone gives their soul for their friends,” he gushed.
Welcome to a military conflict portrayed by Moscow in fervent religious terms.
State Duma deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov, a close Kremlin ally, recently declared on Russian television: “We really are fighting a holy war here, which we must win.” Nikonov is the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s longtime foreign minister, but his blatant declaration of a “metaphysical clash between the forces of good and evil” points to the decidedly “white,” not “red,” thinking prevalent in the Kremlin today — a remarkable return to tsarist-era justifications for pre-Soviet-era Russian wars.
After the collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union in 1991, Russia began turning back to Orthodoxy as a heavenly goal, and that pilgrimage has accelerated since Putin came to power. Today, around 70 percent of Russians describe themselves as orthodox Christians a Pew poll.
So what does it mean for Russia to wage a holy “holy war” in Ukraine in its own imagination – and how should the West understand this messianic mission?
First of all, the prospect of nuclear war, now openly discussed by senior Russian officials, cannot be dismissed as mere shouting. “The danger is serious, real” and “must not be underestimated,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called in a recent television interview.
Nuclear armament is seen as God’s way of ensuring the survival of Mother Russia. As described in an exciting book from 2019, Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy, According to analyst Dmitry Adamsky, each leg of the nuclear triad — airborne, land-based and seaborne — has a patron saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. nuclear weapons are sprinkled with holy water; nuclear submarines have chapels; and priests serve the military personnel responsible for the nation’s nuclear weapons system.
Putin himself has said that orthodox beliefs and nuclear weapons are “closely linked” components of “Russian statehood.” And he recently announced that on TV successful test start of Russia’s most powerful ICBM ever, the RS-28 Sarmat, designated Satan-2 by NATO.
A threat to incinerate Washington with a ballistic missile may seem far-fetched given that the United States has the means to incinerate Moscow with the Pentagon’s own nuclear arsenal. But Russia is thought of by Western analysts to have over 1,500 so-called tactical nuclear weapons designed for use on the battlefield. It is conceivable that a low-yield weapon may detonate over the Black Sea to provide a testament not only to Kyiv but also to Washington’s steadfast commitment to this fight, in an apocalyptic response to the recent statement by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Russia as war aim to weaken.
Russia’s commitment to the holy war also suggests that the “Battle of Kyiv” may not be over yet. Although Ukrainian forces thwarted Russia’s initial advance and forced a Russian shift of firepower to eastern and southern Ukraine, Moscow may turn its attention back to Kyiv if these campaigns are completed to Russia’s satisfaction.
Finally, Kiev’s cherished place in the Russian Orthodox firmament cannot be overstated. In Russian national history, the story essentially begins in 988 with a mass baptism of pagan souls in the waters of the Dnieper near Kyiv. The Mongols later sacked Kyiv, but the city regained its Orthodox identity, and in 1685 the clergy of Kyiv came under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
In the first “textbook” in the history of “Rus,” whose tenets are deeply rooted among Russians and often quoted by Putin in his insistence on the indissoluble bond between Russians and Ukrainians, Kyiv is portrayed as the cradle of Moscow.
Now, with the revival of post-Soviet orthodoxy in Russia, perhaps no image would resonate more triumphantly with the Russian people than that of their soldiers triumphantly taking possession of St. Sophia Cathedral, the holy shrine built in the first “Rus” around Kyiv as Russia to proclaim new Constantinople.
In a way, there is nothing new here. Russian tsars – and Putin fits this mold, even as president-elect – have traditionally gone into battle to protect, as they saw it, orthodox peoples.
The twist in the current battle is that the Russians are fighting their orthodox brethren.
Almost 80 percent of Ukrainians identify themselves as Orthodox – a higher proportion than in Russia. But from Moscow’s perspective, Ukrainians are heretics, as many have largely seceded from the Moscow Patriarchate and their breakaway government seeks to align itself with the decadent West through membership of the European Union and NATO. So “Little Russia”, as Ukraine was officially called in the days of the Tsars, must be recaptured.
Shortly after the invasion began, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, delivered a sermon in Moscow setting out the commitment to an epochal struggle over a godless Western-imposed project of a “new world order.” In response, hundreds of Orthodox clergymen in Ukraine accused Kirill of heresy for preaching that Ukraine belongs forever to the unified spiritual and territorial space called by Russian Orthodox leaders Russky Mir – Russian world.
Kirill himself has called Putin’s rule “a miracle of God”. What is clear is that Putin has publicly welcomed the invasion of Ukraine as a religious endeavour. The Holy War tends to be the cruellest war of all – and Russia’s war may just be beginning.
https://www.politico.eu/article/welcome-russia-holy-war/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Welcome to Russia's Holy War - POLITICO