The invasion by Russia of Ukraine has divided much of the globe into two sides, just as war does. Pro-Ukraine seems to be the dominant sentiment within Western societies. However, the west seems to have a tendency toward pro-Ukraine in some corners.–Ukraine is not anti-Russian per se. America is the only foe.
Its loudest adherents, ironically, are arguably U.S. nationalists—who to varying degrees admire Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt at cultivating what they say is a more moral nation. I support Putin’s right of protecting his people, always putting his people first, but also protecting their Christian values.” saidLauren Witzke is the Delaware GOP Candidate for U.S. Senate 2020. “I identify more with…Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden’s.”
Witzke chose the most risky route but she’s not the only one who did this. Steve Bannon once advised former President Donald Trump. He said this week on his podcast that at the very least, “Putin hasn’t waken.” Similar comments were made by Tucker Carlson, Fox News host. admonished his audience: “It might be worth asking yourself…what is this really about? What is it that I dislike about Putin? As he continued to probe, he rejected the notion that the U.S. should interfere. He asked, “Is this teaching my children to accept racial discrimination?” Does he use fentanyl to make his point? Does he want to destroy Christianity?” (This monologue came later. recycled RT, Russia’s government-controlled television network.)
Putin might not “make fentanyl,” but it may still be true. But to defend an isolationist position, one need not make light of the Russian president’s moral atrocities—which have less to do with critical race theory and more to do with allegedly jailing and murdering dissidents.
Perhaps most ironic about Carlson’s last question—and also per Witzke’s comments—is that Putin, while a self-avowed adherent to Russian Orthodoxy, has been no friend to religious freedom. In 2016, he passed a law criminalizing evangelical efforts outside of church walls—a measure that hamstrings religious life in public, in the home, and online, and thus targets many Christians for displays of faith. These display don’t need to be public. A Baptist pastor was arrested for illegal missionary activity after leading a Baptist worship services. The two other members of the sect also were charged. They handed out books at bus stops. Jehovah’s Witnesses can also face 10 years imprisonment in such cases.
These restrictions will likely have an impact on the Orthodox community as they require that everyone who shares a faith obtain a permit and limit those attempts to religious sites. Russia received an unfortunate distinction on U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s List of Countries Most Hostile to Faith Expression in 2017, one year after it was passed. As of last year, it still sits atop that list, along with Syria, India, and Vietnam—places that perpetuate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious liberty.
The Conservative expressions are louder than normal in their admiration for Putin’s supposed moral clarity. They aren’t new, however. Former White House Communications Director Pat Buchanan wrote in 2013 that while privacy, freedom of thought and religion are important rights, to compare traditional and same-sex married life is to associate good and evil.” He was approvingly summarizing Putin’s resistance to the former. This is not moral confusion, it’s moral clarity.
But once again, Buchanan et. al need not align themselves with a murderous despot in order to take a principled stand for traditional marriage—particularly when considering that the Russian president’s positioning may be rooted more in strategy than in faith. For the conservative Heritage Foundation, Alexis Mrachek wrote and Shane McCrum in 2019 that Putin is looking to strengthen his control over Ukraine and Belarus as well as increase Russian influence into Eastern and Central Europe. It feels prophetic, but he will continue to support Orthodoxy throughout the process. It is a ploy to lure former Soviet republics under the control of Russia. Putin’s Soviet Union was a staunch atheist in its younger years and used secularism to ensure state worship. This approach ultimately fell apart. In some sense, Putin has subverted the approach to religion—leaning heavily on it as opposed to eschewing it—to arrive at the same end goal: state worship.
“The reality is that Russia is not the most religious nation in the world as far as…American evangelicals would recognize,” says David French, a senior editor at The DispatchShe writes extensively on U.S. conservativeism and religion. It’s more of a “the enemy of the enemy is my friend” attitude.’…[Putin’s]Opposition to certain international forces, which some Americans on the right detest most, creates an environment where there is a newfound respect for Putin or some kind of perception of Putin as a welcomed rebuke of the international order they don’t like. They may be dissatisfied with anything from the United Nations or bio pronouns.
In that regard, Putin has been waging a different war for years—a cultural one, where he has strategically placed himself at the front of the battlefield and succeeded in wooing some high-profile figures on the American right. It’s not that the Christian values Putin espouses aren’t important to him. Many religious believers wouldn’t describe poisoning and killing critics as the fruits of God. In an effort to conceal these cruelty, he made himself a moral buffer against the depraved. It’s a tall order—and yet, somehow, in certain corners, he’s succeeded.