Few Western foreign policy analysts have taken seriously Vladimir Putin’s radical reorientation of Russia from communism back to Russian Orthodox Christianity.
Putin is perhaps uniquely qualified to discern that his nation’s identity has been for centuries within a spiritual, distinctly Christian narrative and that a violent rending of Russia’s historically religious roots led to utter disaster for the Russian peoples.
Son of a militant atheist and a pious mother, Putin lived through the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resurgence of capitalism as defined in Russian terms. Though raised a secularist, he is now a devout Christian in the Russian Orthodox tradition and has devoted himself to the advancement of Christianity and the repudiation of what he sees as Western decadence. While some may be dismissive of Putin’s Christian beliefs, there is no doubt that Christianity informs the way he now chooses to shape his own narrative and the story of his country.
Putin’s religious values are rooted in Russian Orthodoxy and personal religious experiences, including his wife’s car accident in 1993 and a life-threatening house fire in 1996. Just before a diplomatic trip to Israel, his mother gave him a baptismal cross. He said of the occasion, “I … put the cross around my neck. I have never taken it off since.”
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The Orthodox Christian Church, which holds an important place in a resurgent Russia, has described its government’s fight against the Islamic State and other jihadi opposition groups in Syria as a “holy war.”