Monday, December 5, 2016

Putin Appears to Be Distancing Himself from Russian Orthodox Church

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 5 – Two statements by Vladimir Putin suggest that the Kremlin leader is now distancing himself from the Russian Orthodox Church despite his reliance on the Moscow Patriarchate for backing of his traditionalist approach and the Russian church’s aspiration to be the successor to the ideological department of the CPSU Central Committee.

            The first of these involved what Putin did not say. In contrast to last year’s speech to the Federal Assembly and to earlier ones as well, the Kremlin this year made absolutely no reference to Russian Orthodoxy. But the second, in which Putin said that all religions and not just Islam have extremists within them may prove to be even more significant.

            In a commentary on Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly, Irina Tumakova of the Fontanka news agency said that this year, in contrast to last, “Putin did not say a single time the word ‘Orthodoxy.’  Last year, however, he made Orthodoxy a central part of the defense of Russia against foreign threats (

                In his speech this year, she notes, “the present began as a true humanist: in the very first part, he spoke about respect, trust, justice, morality and concern about the individual who requires ‘broad and equal opportunities for self-realization, for the incorporation into life of entrepreneurial, creative and civic initiatives.’”

            Putin continued: “Society decisively rejects hubris, rudeness, hypocrisy and egoism … and ever more values such qualities as responsibility, high morality, concern about society’s interests, and a willingness to less to others and to respect their opinion.”

            “Perhaps,” Tumakov says, “someone listening to the president will recall the pogroms of exhibitions and the visits of Orthodox activists with jars of urine to cultural objects, things that the last year was full of,” something that these Orthodox activists may have felt they had the implicit sanction and support of the powers that be.

            The second of Putin’s statements, one that a lead article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says today is “very important,” came at a meeting the day after his Federal Assembly speech at a joint session of the Presidential Councils on Culture and Art and on the Russian Language (

            At that session, Putin expressed the view in the words of the Moscow newspaper that “radicals can be not only Islamists, something that has become a common place” in Russian political discourse but that radicals can arise from “the bowls of any religious tradition,” including presumably Russian Orthodoxy.

            Specifically, the Kremlin leader that while Muslim extremists have indeed attracted the most attention for their attacks in Paris and elsewhere, “this doesn’t mean that there can’t be any outburst” from other faiths because “there are a sufficient number of radicals in all confessions.”  And there is thus always the danger, he continued, that they will “cross the line” in their actions.

            Putin himself did not speak directly about others, but “Nezavisimaya” said that “the truth” of his words is self-evident given the aggressive actions of Orthodox activists and even the intolerance shown by Russia’s Buddhists who are campaigning against the so-called “Buddha bars” they find offensive and whose coreligionists in Myanmar are conducting a genocide.

            It is of course possible that Putin’s failure to mention Orthodoxy in his address and his decision to note that there can be extremists within it as well as within other faiths is part and parcel of his effort to present himself as more open and tolerant not only to Russians but to other governments as well.

            But however that may be, Putin’s choices in these cases are certain to be seen as a tilt against Orthodoxy not only within the Russian church itself but perhaps even more important by those whom Orthodox activists have attacked.  And that almost certainly will have three major consequences in the near term.

            First, it will embolden those who oppose the Moscow Patriarchate’s efforts to build churches in parks and public places.  Second, it will also embolden Muslims to demand that the state agree to open another mosque in Moscow, something the Russian Orthodox Church has consistently opposed.

            And third, for many Orthodox Russians, Putin’s apparent shift will raise questions about just how committed he is to what they see as an essential feature of traditionalism and thus cost him support, even if he gains it from the far smaller but much more often attended to group of Russian liberals.

Putin’s Russia for Export Increasingly at Odds with His Russia for Russians, Shiropayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 5 – A major source confusion about Vladimir Putin and his intentions is that the Russia he has been promoting for export is very different from and even at odds with the Russia he says he favors at home, according to Russian commentator Aleksey Shiropayev.

            In many ways, he argues, “Putin’s Russia is in truth a two-headed eagle.”  As far as foreigners are concerned, it is a right-wing project, focused on traditionalism, nationalism and authoritarianism. But for “internal consumption,” Putin is promoting “a ‘restoration’ of the Soviet system” (

            However, Shiropayev continues, “Putin’s neo-Sovietism, unlike Brezhnev’s times, is actively being freed from a social component. Sovietism today is in a pure form a system of the retention of power by a clan, a system of total control over the population, and in practice total agitation and propaganda that play on Soviet mythologies.”

            Because the foreign and domestic “Putinisms” are fundamentally at odds, he continues, occasionally they come into conflict as they did last week following the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  If the Kremlin had wanted to promote its foreign and right of center views, it would have denounced Castro as a dictator much as Donald Trump did.

            But that isn’t what happened. Instead, Russian television expressed its grief “together with ‘all’ Cubans” because “the myth about Castro is part of the general Soviet mythology which as in the past has defined the mass Russian consciousness. Therefore, the authorities couldn’t and did not want to part company with this myth.”

            Shiropayev expresses his conviction that this won’t be “the last case” when “the ‘right of center’ image” Putin has carefully cultivated abroad will be sacrificed to the imperatives of maintaining the particular kind of neo-Sovietism at home that the Kremlin leader has even more carefully cultivated.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

One Russian ‘Monogorod’ May Soon Drop Off that Government List But There are More than 300 Others Still On It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 4 – Russian media are celebrating the fact this soon one of the country’s “monogorods” or company towns in which a single industry dominates everything may be dropped from that list as soon as 2018; but they concede that more than 300 such places remain and that even if the government meets its goals, there will be 285 at the end of 2025.

            “Izvestiya” reported this past week that the city of Cherepovets in Vologda Oblast may soon be dropped from the list because of the effectiveness of its leaders in attracting new industry and thus employment for one of the rust belt-like company towns across the Russian Federation (

            But the paper conceded that even if it is dropped, there will be at least 318 other such hard-pressed places in which some 14 million residents – ten percent of the country’s population -- now live.  And it noted that the government isn’t even promising to help these places out very quickly: Its program calls for reducing them only to 310 by 2018 and 285 by 2025.

            In discussing what is an indictment of the Putin regime for its failure to invest in these cities during the “fat” years of high oil prices and its inability now in those of the “thin,” Aleksandr Chizhenov of “Kommsersant” spoke with Roman Popov of the Institute for the Economy of the City (

            The urban affairs expert reminds that “the federal monogorod list exists in order that the government will understand the objects of its potential support,” which range from small settlements to large cities and from those that have already entered a dangerous crisis stage to those which are eeking out a more stable existence.

            Popov suggested that one of the reason Cherepovets was doing better is that the local business and political leaders are committed to saving the city and because that company town is one of the rare ones which is not an oblast center and thus is not entangled in the center-periphery struggles of the latter.

            But the large number of company towns still on the list that do not enjoy those advantages and are not coming back almost certainly means that these will be the site of worker unrest of the kind Vladimir Putin personally intervened to address in a few cases but cannot possibly intervene in that way in all.