While much of American and Western media dismiss him as an authoritarian and reactionary, a throwback, Putin may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught up in a Cold War paradigm
This article originally appeared at The Carnegie Council
Nicolai N. Petro is professor of politics at the University of Rhode Island. This paper was presented at the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) seminar on Russia in Koenigswinter, Germany, February 15-18, 2015. CIOR is one of the “independent” advisory bodies to the Military Committee of NATO.
For many analysts the term Russky mir, or Russian World, epitomizes an expansionist and messianic Russian foreign policy, the perverse intersection of the interests of the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Little noted is that the term actually means something quite different for each party. For the state it is a tool for expanding Russia’s cultural and political influence, while for the Russian Orthodox Church it is a spiritual concept, a reminder that through the baptism of Rus, God consecrated these people to the task of building a Holy Rus.
The close symphonic relationship between the Orthodox Church and state in Russia thus provides Russian foreign policy with a definable moral framework, one that, given its popularity, is likely to continue to shape the country’s policies well into the future.
“For us the rebirth of Russia is inextricably tied, first of all, with spiritual rebirth . . .and if Russia is the largest Orthodox power [pravoslavnaya dershava], then Greece and Athos are its source.” —Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Mount Athos, September 2005.
Foreign policy is about interests and values. But while Russia’s interests are widely debated, her values are often overlooked, or treated simplistically as the antithesis of Western values.
But, as Professor Andrei Tsygankov points out in his book Russia and the West from Alexander to Putin, Russia’s relations with the West go through cycles that reflect its notion of honor. By honor he means the basic moral principles that are popularly cited within a culture as the reason for its existence,