Russia 2018-2024
Society and Rulers

A pall of uncertainty has descended on Russia in the run-up to the next presidential elections and beyond.

Published on: October 20, 2017
Andrew Wood is an associate fellow of Chatham House and a former British Ambassador to Belgrade, and subsequently to Moscow (mid 1995–early 2000).
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  • FriendlyGoat

    Putin (and Putinism) remains as long as he (it) holds the Russian church-based voters. America is in the same soup with Trump. When religion manifests as an insistence on controlling people from its dictates, it produces controllers in politics. How to change the direction of religion? Well, every few hundred years, there are revolutions. The interim periods tend to be long.

    • Dale Fayda

      Quite possibly the dumbest paragraph ever written by the Goat on this forum. I would address this comment directly to him, but he had me blocked.

      The man knows literally nothing about the Russian Orthodox church or about its influence on the voting patterns in Russia, yet continues to pontificate learnedly, pushing the same idiotic “Russian Orthodox = American Evangelical” drivel. Something about the Evangelical movement must have really damaged his fragile liberal psyche.

      • Psalms13626

        Comrade FG’s obsession has long ago ceased to be about political or even philosophical realms. It is purely mental and even emotional now. Idea fixe. He literally cannot write more than a sentence without talking about it. For what’s it worth, he has me blocked too. It’s OK. If 2018 goes like I think it will, we’ll have plenty of time to make fun of him.

      • D4x

        Most of us are blocked here by FG. In case you missed it, his obsession is that 81% of American evangelical voters elected DJT, including his belief that was the source of the 100,000 votes in PA, MI, and WI, and that they were duped by their ministers. At some point, FG transmogrified that 81% into Putin’s core voter base. I finally stopped replying to FG with a humor antidote for his triggers, but still read his comments. It must be that car accident syndrome – you know you should NOT look, but…

        Dale: I was reading Massie’s bio of Catherine the Great when FG made that leap in his comment at I do not know if you agree with my point of view about the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church and national identity, but it was a comment that was worth my time and effort to better understand Russian history, before jumping back into Persian/Moghul history.

        I think most of us are blocked here by everyone who now writes for TAI. Otherwise they would realize that the “Note from Our Chairman: A Relaunch” that included the Chairman Maoist fundamental transformation of “Features” writers into “Columnists” outside the paywall, still will not build their daily readership beyond FG.

        Hmm, relaunch of TAI eliminated the Search feature. Guess they lost the intern who deviously made TAI post keyword tags more effective in google search algorithms than keywords ever were in the now-disappeared Search function.

        • Dale Fayda

          Thank you for the info. You always come up with less-known, but interesting stuff.

        • Dale Fayda

          Having read the article you linked, I would postulate that at the present time, the influence of the Russian Orthodox church in national politics is largely notional.

          Despite FG’s fevered imaginings to the contrary, Russia is a largely secular country: Decades of militantly atheistic Communism and the subsequent wholesale plunge into Western Consumerism have seen to that. While there has been a marked revival of religious sentiment after the fall of Communism (along with a tremendous program of church renovation and construction), that bar is still set pretty low.

          Moreover, official Russian Orthodoxy has always been pretty lackluster in generating and sustaining mass religious sentiment among the masses. Ever since the “Raskol” in the 17th century ( and its gradual reduction to utter subservience to the state, completed by Peter the Great, the church in Russia has lost its position as the carrier of the national ideal. To this day, many Russians would agree that the really true and pure Orthodoxy is found in its Old Believer sects and that the official Orthodoxy is for the lukewarm.

          Of course, most ethnic Russians identify with the Russian Orthodox church to some extent, being that it’s an autocephalous national one, with traditions going back well over 1,000 years, but its clout in politics is currently minimal.

          As for Putin, I believe that as a former Soviet-raised ex-KGB colonel, his personal religious conviction is largely nominal and that religious sentiment is secondary in his policy making process. What I believe animates him to an extent is the notion of “Moscow, the Third Rome”, i.e. the idea of Russia, string and holy, staunchly resisting the devious, decadent wiles of the “West” in order to some day emerge as a great temporal and spiritual power. I also believe that this concept is shared (explicitly or implicitly) by a large segment of the ethnic Russian population in Russia and in its “near abroad”.

          • D4x

            Apologies for the delay in my reply. I tend to agree with all of your points, but I do believe the Russian Orthodox Church is part of current, can’t believe I am about to write this, current Russian Identity. Not necessarily “staunchly resisting the devious, decadent wiles of the “West””, or even resisting postmodern secularism. National identity is how successful nation-states overcame tribalism. In Europe tribalism went through a long period of ‘fiefdomism’ that, through different processes of geographic unification, and what seems like endless wars, emerged as nations, some more fragile than others.

            The ethnic Russians have such a history of misery that there must be some pride in having a ‘national’ church, with tranquil spaces of some beauty, some ethical framework for life, perhaps some hope that life has meaning.
            See you again.

    • Pait

      Not quite willing to praise the Putin dictatorship, Russian trolls attack whoever doesn’t love it to death. Interesting.

      By the way, “neo-stagnation” is a good term.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I’m sure not willing to praise the Putin dictatorship. I’m lamenting that church people were used to enable it and will continue being used to enable it—–until—-they understand that this ruins both their government AND Christianity. The same thing is going on in Turkey with Islam in an “almost-made-it-to-secular—-but—-OOPS” country. And the same thing is going on in America with Trump and his evangelicals.

        Both the governments and the prevailing religion go meaner and meaner in this cycle. As for “neo-stagnation”, I would prefer a term which messages the religious involvement in these messes. How about “Religio-Fossilization” where kindness is turned into stone?

        • Pait

          You are not. Nor are some others, though they love Putin for helping subvert democracy in the US and wherever freedom still exists.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, they do. It is a very strange marriage of convenience. You’ve got people like Senator Lindsey Graham who will gripe about the Russians publicly and give thanks for the Russians’ election help against Hillary at the same time. You’ve got an entire Chamber of Commerce Gang salivating over their “once in a generation opportunity” to destroy the effective end of the American tax code, an “opportunity” arguably given to them by an adversarial country. And we have American church enamored with Putin because they join him in a wish to persecute the gays.

          • Tom

            You do understand that you sound like a left-wing version of a John Birch Society member, right?

      • Otis

        Indeed it is. My favorite turn of phrase was the description of the activities of the security services as “a system of competitive autodrive.”

  • D4x

    Andrew Wood should have reminded his potential readers what he means when he writes: “…Russia’s cultural degradation over this century, and its reneging on the European and Christian values that were essential to its finest achievements of the 19th and 20th centuries.”, especially exactly what he is thinking of as “its finest achievements of the 19th and 20th centuries.” Russia certainly deserves credit for knowing what to do with statues that might offend: (the two full figures are Stalin, the box of statue heads are everyone else):
    23-apr-2015 Russia Muzeon Park of Arts (formerly the Park of the Fallen Heroes or Fallen Monument Park) is a
    park outside the Krymsky Val building in Moscow shared by the modern art division of Tretyakov Gallery.

    Aside from the premature speculation on Russia’s next election in 2018, Wood continues the ongoing series of the revived American pastime of painting Putin as The Other, the all powerful mischief maker threatening the “liberal international order”, and keeping the Russian Federation from joining the ‘Club of Worthy Nations’. That is my general impression of the Features that have dominated The American Interest since the USA 2016 election, a reflection of the obsessive hysteria over Putin!Russia! that has made most American media, and the U.S. Congress an embarrassment to more than half of Americans who still pay attention to ‘news’.

    My dilemma is that today, RealClearWorld linked to “Dealing With an Era of Change in the International Arena Pres. Vladimir Putin, Kremlin”. However, the link led to “October 19, 2017 20:10 Sochi The general topic of the Valdai Club this year is Creative Destruction: Will a New World Order Emerge from the Current Conflicts? …Alongside the President of Russia the speakers at the final session included former President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, Research Director at the Norwegian Nobel Institute Asle Toje, and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma.

    I am taking a break after reading President Putin’s thoughtful and fascinating opening remarks, not least because it conforms to previous remarks, and Russia’s actual actions the past few months, especially this past week in the Kurdistan-Israel-Syria-Iran-Saudi Arabia-Egypt-USA geopolitical complexity.

    Although I wanted to read the Valdai transcript when I first saw it more than seven hours ago, I did read Wood first, after realizing TAI has re-organized this website, and, one can assume, the deletion of all Disqus comments is soon to follow. A thoughtful analysis of Putin’s remarks at the 14th Valdai Conference in Sochi would have been so much more relevant to everything that actually IS threatening world peace and prosperity, from war, technologies, environment, quoting:

    “…moderator Fyodor Lukyanov: we tried to discuss the broadest possible range of conflicts that determine the destiny of the human race. For instance, we spoke about the conflict between geopolitical views of the world.
    …new information technologies have made the information space as precious as
    land was in the age of Columbus. Interference in others’ information space is now viewed as a major threat to national security. …

    the conflict between man and nature, because people will need to live somewhere, even if together with artificial intelligence, but
    wildlife area is rapidly decreasing. Today, more tigers are living in captivity than in the taiga or the jungle.
    We agreed that we must change our attitude to nature and that the economy must be made subordinate in some degree to the
    dominance of the environment …
    Future Preparedness Index, which the Valdai Club prepared with the VTsIOM public opinion centre.
    This index, which has been compiled for the G20 countries, gauges the extent to which various countries are prepared to
    meet the challenges of tomorrow, which cannot be easily predicted. …”

  • Psalms13626

    Russia was, is and will be a totalitarian shithole. It’s just the nature of it. So glad my parents moved here. Who cares? They have the nukes and are a force to be reckoned with. They are not your friend.

  • Angel Martin

    The difference between Putin and Western politicians is:

    Putin looks out for his country’s interest, while enriching himself and his cronies;

    And Western politicians (excluding Trump) are trying to destroy their own countries, while enriching themselves and their cronies.

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