Putin’s war is also Kirill’s crusade
The EU Commission has given in to pressure from Hungary and removed Patriarch Kirill from the list of persons to be sanctioned in the draft Sixth package of restrictive measures against Russia in response to the war in Ukraine. While this exemplifies a disastrous weakness towards Viktor Orbán’s regime, it also underscores a fatal underestimation of the role of the Russian-Orthodox Church within the power structure of Russia and its campaign of destruction against Ukraine.
Part 1: Historical interconnections. Current dependencies
It is not just one war that Putin has been waging in Ukraine since 24 February 2022: it is at least four wars. Wars against different enemies, against hostile chimeras that in Putin’s world view are inseparably bound together. But, as we aim to show in this paper, he is not alone in this world view.
Four wars focused on one destruction
A political war: waged against Ukraine as a free nation and sovereign state which definitively turned away from Moscow after the 2013/2014 Euromaidan events and pivoted towards the West.
A war against the construction of a liberal, democratic model of society: also perceived as a war in support of a revisionist, illiberal and authoritarian leadership model like the one Putin has constructed in Russia, where he continues to consolidate his hold on power.
In his address to the Russian nation in February 2022, Putin set out his diagnosis:
- Egoistical striving for freedom,
- A false concept of individualism,
- Pseudo-values, which lead to degradation and degeneration, as they are against human nature and lead to a departure from the values of true nationalists,
a diagnosis summed up in one word, decadence.
And in this address, Putin justified the order to Russian troops to march into Ukraine.
A war also meant to correct an allegedly false view of history and the ensuing false concept of identity, mistakenly, from this point of view, called ‘Ukrainian identity’, and the incorporation of Ukraine once more into the Russian Federation. Underlying this is perhaps a more specific concept: incorporation into the Great Russian Empire that Putin is striving to build — on geopolitical grounds and, most importantly, on cultural and historical grounds. Putin has concocted his own view of history, one in which there has never been an autonomous Ukrainian population and, de facto, no right to an independent state.
In this world view the nation which today calls itself Ukraine embodies an Anti-Russia within the legal territory of the All-Russian nation, a nation consisting of central Russia (Russia), White Russia (Belarus) and Little Russia (Ukraine). Whenever arguments in favor of a war against today’s Ukraine are needed, the creation myths of this All-Russian nation are put forward.
In Putin‘s world view, this All-Russian nation may have been broken up by outside forces but nevertheless its soul has always survived. In the centuries immediately before the First World War, it was the Poland of the 17th and 18th centuries that was the enemy, and then the Habsburg Empire. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the enemy became the ‘combined liberal decadent West’, specifically the European Union which, hand in glove with the USA, has been trying to hamper the recreation of this unified legitimate Russian Empire. In line with this view, the soldiers of the Russian Army were sent not as conquerors but as liberators, to the Crimea and Donbas in 2014, and in 2022 to the whole territory. The fact that the majority of Ukrainians still cannot understand this only proves their advanced decadence and the residual influence of the West on their way of thought.
And last but by no means least, a war as a crusade in the name of the Russian Orthodox Church. In order to better to understand this specific motive for war and to be able to categorize it, it is helpful to look at how this interweaving of temporal and spiritual power came about in Russia and to consider the special relationship between the incumbent Russian president and the current Patriarch.
Not even Stalin could manage without the clergy.
The consolidation of the influence of the Orthodox Russian clergy on world politics began with a decision that was in fact designed to destroy this status for ever. In the course of his later reforms, which were supposed to follow a western model to modernize Russian society, Peter the Great used the death of the patriarch, Adrian, in 1700, first to leave the Patriarchy without an incumbent and then to replace it with a Holy Synod. The members of the Synod had to swear fealty to the Tsar, the administration of the church was taken over by the state, church property was largely absorbed by the state and the jurisdiction of the clergy was reduced.
For two hundred years the Church fought for the return of its former rights until, at the end of 1917, the Patriarchy was reintroduced and the separation of Church and State was introduced, together with the guarantee of religious freedom. Shortly afterwards, however, at the beginning of 1918, this was effectively suppressed by a catalogue of interdictions.
There soon began what is seen as the most wide-ranging and cruelest persecution of Christians in recent history: in several waves, millions of Christian believers in the Soviet Union were imprisoned, tortured, sent to gulags, murdered. But when Stalin needed soldiers to defend the Soviet Union against Hitler’s troops, he knocked at the doors of the remaining Princes of the Church, ate humble pie, abandoned his brutal repressions, and even permitted the election of a Patriarch.
In return, the Church called on its traditionally obedient followers to support the fight against National Socialism. The victory of the Red Army in the Great Patriotic War (as the Second World War is called in Russia) can be seen, in this respect, as the victory of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Stalin was well aware of this. By the time he died in 1953 thousands of previously closed churches had been opened again and numerous positions in the Orthodox hierarchy had been filled throughout all the provinces. The dictator had a lot for which to thank his pact with the representative of God on earth.
The Church as the long arm of the KGB
Khrushchev ignored the advantages of a quid pro quo between church and state, returned to the doctrine of an indissoluble contradiction between communism and the Church, and had all those who were not prepared to renounce their faith persecuted. However, Khrushchev had to pay for his reversal of Stalin’s pragmatic church policy. The greater openness that followed de-Stalinization led to counter movements, petitions and protests. In 1961 a Church reform brought the power relationship back to an approximate balance.
Brezhnev learned from this and tried a policy of relaxation combined with an infiltration of the Russian-Orthodox clergy by the KGB. This procedure was much more successful and is still bearing fruit today: the incumbent Patriarch, Kirill, (in office since 2009), sits within this tradition, as did his predecessor Alexius II (Patriarch until 2008).
State Church thanks to Gorbachev and Yeltsin
Mikhail Gorbachev also knew how to use the apparatus of the Church to his best advantage. He attended church regularly, invited Orthodox dignitaries to the Kremlin, facilitated the return of numerous churches, monasteries and estates to the clergy and massively increased state financial support for the Russian Orthodox Church.
For Boris Yeltsin any thoughts of a secular form of state and society were totally taboo. On the contrary, he used the established church networks extremely efficiently and in 1997 he signed a religious law which speaks, in its preamble, of the Russian Orthodox Church as the church and doctrine that has had a decisive influence on the history and culture of Russia. This meant the effective recognition of the Russian Orthodox Church as the state church of Russia.
Putin – President with the blessing of the Church
Calculatingly and with one single act (it was hardly accidental that its symbolism was reminiscent of the Tsarist era) Yeltsin made sure at the end of his term of office that the cooperation between Church and State, so beneficial to both sides, could continue as a unity, so to speak.
Overnight, the retiring president named his chosen successor, a complete unknown, Vladimir Putin, as acting president although the constitution did not recognize any such office and the successor himself would not have had a hope of winning an election against much more popular candidates. To solve this secular problem Yeltsin summoned the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch gave the acting president his blessing in front of television cameras and a worldwide audience.
The sin of appointing a president of the Russian Federation in an unconstitutional manner was to be washed away by this act of Orthodox blessing, healed by a religious consecration. While it may have seemed at the time, and from a Western point of view, a grotesque spectacle, especially in a state that claimed to be democratic, it can be seen with hindsight as an almost prophetic act. From this point on Putin would himself regularly use the method of a church blessing as a cover for political crimes. And the Patriarchy – most recently Kirill in March 2022 – would regularly acknowledge Putin as an emissary from God. The time-honored phrase for the vicious circle of cronyism and back-scratching, manus manum lavat, one hand washes the other, comes to mind.
The symbolism of this ceremony, obviously more than a mere blessing, placed the power of the Church above that of the State. A not totally unselfish present from the outgoing president to the Russian Orthodox clergy. Many accusations can be levelled against Yeltsin and many were mindful of the need for self-protection, for Yeltsin was not just a fearsome drinker, he was also a feared fox. And so, from the very moment he took the reins of power over Russia into his hands, Putin was in debt to the Russian Orthodox Church. Such things are binding. Manus manum lavat.
Part 2: Medieval façade. Modern power structure
Peace. Peace must return sometime. But what could this peace look like?
Wars are also culture wars. The war in Ukraine is no exception. This fact cannot be disregarded in negotiations about peace and the future of the two main parties – Ukraine and the Russian Federation Awareness of this fact, along with the involvement of all the parties to the conflict, is just as critical to any negotiations as clarity in understanding their interests and arguments, regardless of whether or not these are substantiated by international law and / or cultural history.
Up to now the West has focused on the political conflict provoked by the Russians and on Vladimir Putin as the sole catalyst for the war and the main obstacle to a stable peace. The situation seems so patently clear that it is unanimously assumed that a putsch against Putin, or even his death, would fundamentally alter the situation. But would it?
Even those among his potential successors who, like Dmitri Medvedev, are seen as representatives of a more pragmatic course, have become compliant disciples of his world view, his goals and his cynical coldness. But what if the apparently autocratic power of the Russian president were a lot less independent? What if, outside the Kremlin, there were a further system of power and influence in Russia, and this power were so strong that even Putin could not completely free himself from it?
The role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the current power structure of Russia and the historical reasons for it are little known in the West and are given too little consideration in discussions about the causes and results of the war in Ukraine.
As a result, there have been both omissions and disastrous decisions of far-reaching dimensions. One example is the EU Commission’s decision to remove the name of Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev alias Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus, number 1158, from the list of people to be sanctioned in the draft Sixth Package of Restrictive Measures against Russia.
The problem is not just that the EU gave in to pressure from the Hungarian government and let itself be shown up once again by President Viktor Orbán. What is almost worse — the EU has given a free hand to a very doubtful figure and his corrupt, influential and dangerous apparatus of power.
Lust for power and luxurious living behind a medieval facade.
Behind the pre-modern, perhaps even late medieval, façade cultivated by the church hides an apparatus that is not bound by the care and salvation of the soul: the Russian Orthodox Church is one of the largest nongovernmental landowners in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. In addition to churches and monasteries it possesses a wide real estate empire. Experts estimate the total income to be up to approximately one billion US dollars a year. The Church also receives money from the State, in accordance with the constitution, as well as donations from private individuals and businesses. A few years ago Kirill’s press office felt it necessary to retouch a photo that had already been released, in order to remove a luxury gold watch from the Patriarch’s wrist. His entourage’s shopping tours in dioceses such as New York, Chicago, London, Paris and Vienna are legendary.
To keep the clergy mobile, as befits it, there is an impressive fleet of high-end cars, helicopters and even, according to some reports, aircraft. On trips abroad they are always the guest of the embassy of the Russian Federation and live in four- or preferably five-star hotels, enjoying all the hotel’s amenities. To administer its possessions, the approximately 115 million believers in Russia alone, and around 150 million worldwide, and its dedicated offline and online communications, the Russian Orthodox Church uses its own Church media services, including social network trolls, the so-called Kirill-Bots.
The personnel of the Russian Orthodox Church have been closely associated with the secret services since 1970. Ever since the Brezhnev era there has been no Russian Orthodox Patriarch who has not had roots in the KGB or its successor organization the FSB. ‘This is true,’ said a leading member of the Church during a confidential conversation, ‘for most metropolitans (archbishops) and for at least a third of all priests and candidates for the priesthood here.’ ‘Recruitment takes place in the seminary,’ he added. ‘Writing reports for the FSB is as much a part of the life of the priesthood as confession is in the life of the believer.’
Pillar of the ‘Russian World’ and co-creator of the Putin state
The Russian Orthodox Church under Kirill sees itself as a supporting pillar of Russkii Mir – Russian World or Russian Peace, for mir in Russian means both world and peace. Its main task has become the defense of this ideal against the influences of Western decadence – a concept that includes everything from the right to individual freedom and basic democratic rights to sexual self-determination – alongside missionary work in regions of the Third World that are rich in raw materials. With a determination that is intensive and aggressive, the Church accompanies its proclamation of religious messages with presentations of its ideal embodiment of the anti-modern, anti-liberal Russia of the future.
Now when the Patriarch, his metropolitans and priests bless soldiers, tanks and rockets everywhere in Russia, this is not simply because they support Putin’s political war. The Church has a whole package of interests in a war against Ukraine: religious-historically, religious-philosophically and Church-politically. And reasonings that go back into history — much further than Putin’s derivation of his political ambitions.
Any talk of a peace without the inclusion of a reversal of the Ukrainian nation’s move to becoming a modern, western-liberal society is even less desirable to the Church than to the political establishment in the Kremlin. The Church would also prefer the peace to be combined with the obliteration of Ukraine’s cultural self-confidence, which in this case encompasses the social, political and religious identity of the Ukrainian people.
For Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church is a close yet simultaneously demanding ally in this war. In order for Kirill and his priests to declare to the millions of believers that his ‘special operation’ is a holy war against evil, or alternatively a crusade to preserve God’s will on earth, some return is expected. The restoration of the Russian Orthodox Church in the area that Kirill now calls ‘Little Russia’ rather than Ukraine would be not simply a matter of the Church’s political interest. It would help to support robust action against the assumed western decadence which has turned independent Ukraine, in Putin’s and Kirill’s eyes, into a Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Russian Orthodox Church is not just an institution that must be included in the list of those to be sanctioned in Russia. The Church must also be included at the negotiating table during peace talks. The Church may well turn out to be difficilium inter difficilii, the most obdurate amongst the hostile, but history shows that without the Church there can be no viable peace.
The Midwife, the Baptizer, the Godparent, at one and the same time
The Russian Orthodox Church claims to have been simultaneously the midwife, baptizer,and godparent of the Russian World / Russkii Mir, a myth that had faded away but which has been revived by Putin: an empire that stretches far beyond the borders of the current Russian Federation and that is defined less by geographical or political borders than by an inner cohesion of values, through language and culture, belief in Christian-Orthodox teachings and a consensus that society does not need the freedom of the individual but rather a common focus on a single leader.
An orthodoxy of fraternal struggle
When Putin justifies his goal of restoring the Greater Russian Empire, consisting of the trinity of Russia, Belarus and Little Russia, now called Ukraine, and which arose from the baptismal font of the Dnieper, he is referring to exactly the same legend as that which promoted the Orthodox Church, as midwife, baptizer and godparent, above secular Russia: in 988 AD Grand Duke Vladimir, ruler of Kyiv Rus, converted to Christianity and was baptized. What grew in ascendancy in the following centuries in the larger region around Kyiv and Novgorod, along the trade routes between the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, geographically in the center of today’s Ukraine, is considered to be the nucleus of Slavic-Orthodox culture.
The Seat of the Metropolitan was Kyiv until 1299, then for a short time Vladimir, 200 kilometers east of Moscow, and finally Moscow from 1325. At the end of the fifteenth century there was a gradual splitting off of the Metropolis (diocese) of Kiev and all Rus from the Patriarchy of Constantinople, finally officially confirmed in 1590.
The historical background is significant. For ever since then the Russian Church has exerted a massive influence, not only on secular politics but in nurturing the long running internal dispute about the religious sovereignty of interpretation and the right to provide personal leadership. This was accompanied by efforts to separate the Ukrainian Church from the Russian Church, efforts which flared up cyclically but were always suppressed.
In 1918, during the proclamation of the first independent Republic of Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church finally agreed to an autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was founded in 1920, but, because of Stalin’s persecutions and complex internal church disputes, only came into being in 1937. In the following decades, known as the decades of tied hands, the Mother Church in Moscow became regent for the believers in the Ukraine. Following the second independence of Ukraine in 1990 / 1991 there were further demands for church independence alongside secular independence. The Patriarchy in Moscow, supported by the Kremlin and by Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople since 1991, prevented this. Bartholomew was not wrong in thinking that the divisions between the pragmatic Ukrainian Orthodox and the traditionally dogmatic Russian Orthodox could lead to a split in the whole Orthodox Church.
The break that will never be forgiven
However three decades later, in 2018, Bartholomew felt compelled to send out a signal of historical significance and agreed to the application of the Ukrainians for autocephaly, that is, the independence of the Ukrainian Church, and therefore a split from the Russian Orthodox Church. ‘Bartholomew is a wise man,’ said a Ukrainian Orthodox metropolitan in an interview. ‘One cannot conceal from him where humility turns into arrogance, and respect for one’s counterpart into the humiliation of that counterpart.’ A diplomatic and apt description of the humiliation of everything Ukrainian on the part of Russian Orthodox fellow believers and their ever more aggressive attacks against those in the majority in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who favored a course open to certain gradual developments towards a modern and liberal society. At the same time, it must be noted that although the majority of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine have turned away from the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate, a small number, mostly in eastern Ukraine, have opted to remain under the umbrella of the Russian Orthodox Church. Bartholomew’s decision may well have been the most far-reaching decision of any Supreme Patriarch of the worldwide community in hundreds of years. It was a public challenge to the reactionary and dogmatic course of the Russian Orthodox Church and so a personal challenge to Kirill, whose reaction was not long in coming.
Since the secession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, not only have the number of publicly documented meetings between the Patriarch and the Russian president increased substantially, but it is also noticeable that Kirill has been expressing himself ever more frequently and ever more explicitly and aggressively about actual or suggested developments in Ukraine. Finally, in agreement with Putin, he has come to the conclusion that ‘the Ukrainian people have fallen to the West, and their lost souls rage against truth and goodness, as once Saul raged against truth and goodness. But after their final separation there is little hope that they will, like Saul, find the strength for conversion and a return to reason. If the rot is not to spread, their arrogance must be extinguished.’
Part 3: Ivan Ilyin – the god next to God
After Vladimir Putin had become the constitutional president of the Russian Federation in May 2000 through more or less democratic elections, he was deeply in debt to the Russian Orthodox Church, without whose determined and benedictory performance Yeltsin’s plan would hardly have succeeded; at the same time the new Russian president needed a rapid and striking success that could give him the respect and support he needed among the Russian people.
The long smoldering war against Chechen bandits and terrorists was the obvious choice, and Putin deliberately followed a course of serious escalation. The accompanying gesture of thanks to the Church, which had also given its blessing to this, was unmistakable. It was not only orthodox priests who understood that the word Chechen in the much-quoted battle cry was meant as a synonym for Muslim. It is an irony of history that twenty two years later, in Putin’s war against Ukraine, Chechen soldiers are fighting alongside Russians and they celebrated the destruction of each block of flats and conquered street in Mariupol with cries of Allahu Akbar!
Normal is something you cannot change
The symbiotic relationship and reciprocal instrumental consolidation between the secular and ecclesiastical power apparatus in Russia, developed over centuries and, as described above, maintained even in Soviet times, has deepened even further under Putin. The majority of the Russian people merely shrug this off. Anybody who does not consider it normal still accepts it as a given and unchangeable. In any case criticism of the Church and its representatives is still widely regarded as sacrilege in Orthodox societies. People might complain about the municipal administration or condemn the governor as corrupt, but as soon as the conversation comes round to the Church, even a circle of supposedly good friends falls silent. All the more so as in the Russian Orthodox Church there can be no question of an open and critical exchange of ideas between clergy and believers. ‘Teaching goes from the top down. Believers accept it humbly and internalize it, without any complaints or questions. So it was, so it is, and so it always will be,’ says Andrei, a Ukrainian-Orthodox priest, who has distanced himself from this dogma and is, as he says, fighting for the future of ecumenism – now with weapons as well as words. ‘Prayers alone won’t save us. As God is our witness, we are defending what we have peacefully created in His name. A church that blesses a war and denigrates their supposed brethren as the enemy has forfeited every right to appeal to God. Patriarch Kirill’s mind must be as disturbed as Putin’s.’
The president and the patriarch: an unholy symbiosis
In addition to their shared interests, there was soon a close relationship at a personal level between the two leaders. In December 2008 Alexy II, the Patriarch who had helped Putin become president, died. His cardiac failure came as a surprise at the time but was not further investigated. Now, however, speculation continues to increase, given his KGB past (code name Drozdov), which is no longer in doubt, and his continuing engagement with the Roman Catholic Church. Apparently several meetings planned between him and Pope John Paul II were prevented by intrigues within the Church. The brother-in-faith who later became his successor is said to have played a decisive role in this. (During Alexy’s term of office Kirill was metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, two of the most influential Russian Orthodox dioceses in ecclesiastical-political terms.)
Two minds with but a single thought
To date, no absolutely certain proof has been found for the oft-repeated statement that Putin and Kirill knew one another from their time in the KGB. Even more interesting is the affinity demonstrated by the two shortly after Kirill’s elevation as the new head of the Church. Whether it is true friendship or, more likely, a strategic alliance that binds the two, it quickly became obvious that behind the symbiosis between the Kremlin and the Church there was more than temporal political power and material benefit.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev alias Kirill I are bound together by a shared ideology, a world view that has little sympathy for the achievements of the Enlightenment and the modern age, invoking instead a handful of national-chauvinist, radically religious and mostly Russian thinkers. One in particular stands out: Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin (1883 – 1954). His work provides them both with particularly useful arguments when it comes to the restoration of the Great Russian Empire and at the same time proves to be an ideal spiritual bridge between secular and religious power.
Kirill enthuses about Ivan Ilyin as ‘the greatest thinker that Russia has ever produced’; Putin answers schoolchildren’s questions about his greatest role model: Ilyin.
Historical misrepresentation, leadership cult, messages of salvation
Large parts of Ilyin’s writings read like the pamphlets of a high school senior: a conglomeration of misunderstood Kant, Fichte and Hegel, held together by powerful images and Old Testament dogmas, interspersed with wildly interpreted and convoluted theories taken from Sigmund Freud, sprinkled with political philosophy loaded with emotion and underpinned by a radical orthodox philosophy of religion.
It would have been almost impossible to undervalue sufficiently the contributions of this so-called thinker to human endeavor, had not both President Putin and Patriarch Kirill found in his work their arsenal of arguments and reasoning in favor of a mixture of historical misrepresentation, leadership cult, messages of salvation, national-chauvinistic phrases and metaphysically loaded analogies. Anyone who wants to fully understand the reasoning behind Putin’s war and Kirill’s crusade cannot avoid submitting to the martyrdom of reading Ilyin’s works.
Hitler: not religious enough. Mussolini: inspiring leader
The crucial tenet for Putin and Kirill is Ivan Ilyin’s core thesis that Russia is the nation through which a Christian promise of salvation is fulfilled.
God, according to Ilyin, created the world in order to perfect himself. With the creation of man, however, sin came into the world, which promptly broke into pieces. A righteous nation under a strong leader is needed to save everything that has been lost since then. At first Ilyin enthused about Adolf Hitler but had to recognize that Hitler did not value religion. In Mussolini he found a man who fitted in better with his ideas. Il Duce’s speeches and appearances provided the prolific writer with new variations on a justification for political totalitarianism.
For Ilyin, the rule of law is not a basic right and democracy is an aberration. In particular, the aspiring middle classes stand in the way of true leaders because of their self-confidence and their striving for independence. How can a nation stand united and strong in the world if it, like those in Europe, it is made up of individualists? Instead, a dictatorship of national education is needed.
Ilyin saw an initial promising model in Mussolini’s fascism. ‘Fascism is the saving excess of patriotic despotism.’ But despite all his enthusiasm for the Duce, there was only one people for whom the ‘act of redemption’ entered the arena: the Russians. Had this people not ‘virtuously defended itself for centuries against attack and encroachment, while always remaining true to itself’? Was it not, among all western Christian people, the ‘one and only’ that had ‘never denied and never lost its divine central character’? Could it not always count on “God giving it strength of spirit’?
‘There is no Ukraine’
Ivan Ilyin always spoke of ‘Ukraine’ and ‘the Ukrainians’ with irony and sarcastic emphasis. Anyone who has read Putin’s speeches and Kirill’s weekly pastoral letters since 24 February 2022 will not only have noticed many similarities but will also have noted their increasing aggression, an increase which even Ivan Ilyin himself needed half a lifetime to achieve. It is difficult to work out exactly when Kirill discovered his so-called thinker while Putin, since taking office, has regularly referred to Ilyin in his speeches. Indeed, as Putin brought Ilyin’s remains back to Moscow from Switzerland in 2005 and had them re-interred there with full ecclesiastical pomp, he has undoubtedly been fully aware of him and his work from at least 2000.
Ivan Ilyin – a new saint on a pedestal
Together Putin and Kirill have elevated the previously and justifiably little known thinker Ivan Ilyin to the holy position of a saint on a pedestal in support of their ideology of a Holy Russia for modern, Christian-Orthodox times and made him compulsory reading in schools.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was supposed to be the end of a failed epoch but, seen through their eyes, it was at most a turning point on the way to restoring Russia’s historical importance. Greater things are to follow, not only in terms of territorial power, but of temporal power combined with divine grandeur.
The future ‘Great Russian Empire’ that, under Vladimir Putin and with the vigorous support and blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church, shall emerge from the current Russian Federation, will revise the errors of history and achieve that which has been awaiting completion – and waiting for the savior who will accomplish it – for thousands of years: Russki Mir, the Russian World, as a kingdom of God on earth.
And, crucially: if he should not be able to complete this project himself, his successors will. According to the plan, which has worked so far thanks to Kirill, the support of the people will be secured by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Whoever tries to bring peace after this terrible war must take into account the ideological background and, above all, the intertwining of Church and State, of the political and religious myths that are fundamental to this world view. The West urgently needs to move away from its sole focus on Vladimir Putin. What is currently happening in Ukraine is a collective crime in which the Russian Orthodox Church is playing a fundamental role. The re-education announced by Putin of all surviving Ukrainians remaining in the territory is intended not simply as denazification. Its aim is re-Christianization. Putin’s war in Ukraine is, at one and the same time, Kirill’s crusade.
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