- (march 2023)
Putin's Radicalization and the Russian Jihad
Who sees himself as invested of a divine mission, wants to restore a holy empire, and preaches that martyrs will go to heaven?
No, it's not an Islamic fanatic: it's Vladimir Putin.
When analyzing Putin's reasons for the invasion of Ukraine, we often focus
on the part where Putin argues that NATO threatens Russia. We rarely focus
on something that Putin has been saying and writing repeatedly since at least 2012 and
increasingly more often: that Russia is the "third Rome" of Christianity
and that he, Putin, has a sort of divine mission to restore the glory
of that "third Rome" in the name of all Christians.
This is eerily similar to Al Qaeda's and ISIS' idea that they are fulfilling
a divine mission to restore the caliphate.
Putin thinks that the decadent West is the devil, and that he is fighting a
cosmic battle against that evil (the decadent West).
Putin is more similar to Osama bin Laden than to a geopolitical strategist.
Putin, like Islamic jihadists, believes that there is a god, and that he, Putin, will be rewarded for the crimes that he is committing.
To most people this is an aberration: if a god exists, Putin will most likely spend eternity in hell. But that's not how Putin and Islamic jihadists think.
Putin frequently starts Russian history in
988 when Vladimir, prince of Kiev, converted from paganism to Christianity.
At that time the Western Roman Empire had already collapsed and the Eastern one
was based in Byzantium (aka Costantinople, today's Istanbul), the "second Rome".
The Roman pope had lost any authority
over Byzantium. Vladimir converted to Byzantium's Christianity, known as
the "Orthodox" one, i.e. the newly created church of Kiev was subordinate not to the bishop of Rome but to the patriarch of
In 1453 the Muslims conquered the Byzantine Empire and changed the name of Byzantium into Istanbul.
For a couple of centuries the church of Russia remained technically subordinate to the patriarch of Constantinople/ Istanbul, clearly a very weak religious leader since he lived in a Muslim country.
Over time, Russia's Orthodox Church became independent of Constantinople and therefore the "third Rome". (To this day, there is a patriarch of Constantinople's Eastern Orthodox Christianity, named Bartholomaios A).
Orthodox Christianity, like all religions, was banned and persecuted under the Soviet Union, an atheist state. When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, people flocked back to the churches. The religious revival picked up pace inside both Russia and Ukraine. By the time that
Kirill (Vladimir Gundyayev) became patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009 the Orthodox Church had become again influential in public opinion.
It is not clear when Putin (who had been a KGB member, an organization in charge of persecuting religion) "converted" from atheism to Christianity,
but the alliance between Putin and Kirill became evident in 2012, when Putin was reelected for a third term.
Putin fully embraced the Russian Orthodox Church and Kirill hailed Putin as a “miracle of God.”
That's also when Putin started becoming paranoid against "deviant" sexuality.
Since then, Putin has repeatedly held Russia as the guardian of Christian values.
Putin also started talking of Russia in Christan eschatological and apocalyptic terms, as the savior of Christianity (in his view threatened by Western decadence) with a mission to restore the old unity of Orthodox Christianity.
In other words, Putin sees himself as invested with a divine mission to create the Holy Russian Empire. This is not too different from the ambition of various Islamist jihadists to restore the caliphate.
When he visited the Orthodox monastery of Mt Athos in 2016, Putin posed as the protector of the faith in front of the throne of the patriarch.
Putin views the Russian church as providing both a rationale for patriotism and the moral foundation of the Russian nation.
Putin is no heir to the atheist communist regime of the Soviet Union. He is heir to czarist and Christian Russia. Putin is a Russian nationalist who views Marxism-Leninism as an obsolete (and Western) idea. He views Lenin as pretty much an idiot. Putin is a modern European. There is no contradiction in being a European and being wary of Europe. Peter the Great, who ruled from 1682 to 1725, turned Russian customs upside down in order to make it look as European as possible. Nonetheless he fought ferociously to defend Russia from Sweden. Catherine the Great, who wasn't even Russian (she was born a German princess), entertained European philosophers while expanding the Russian empire on the other side of the Urals (she's the one who made it a Eurasian empire) and south (she's the one who conquered Crimea in 1783). Unlike China, which is trying to subvert the US-dominated capitalist system, Putin never said that he doesn't believe in Western capitalism, or that he wants to get rid of the dollar. He has been happy to buy and sell in the Western-dominated capitalist world. Putin has never said or implied that communism was better than capitalism. He is nostalgic about the power and size of the Soviet Union, not about its communist ideology. Putin's problem with the West is not ideological: it is moral.
Putin is clearly no communist: the Soviet Union promised a communist paradise, whereas Putin believes in the Christian paradise.
However, he is still influenced by communism because he rarely talks of the actual paradise full of angels. His paradise is a great Russian nation.
It is this divine mission that legitimizes the territorial expansion of Russia,
and it will probably not stop in Ukraine.
Putin has created a metaphysical narrative of the struggle between good and evil.
Evil are: nazis, gays and decadent westerners.
He increasingly uses references to the Antichrist and Satan.
He literally demonizes foreign enemies.
This too is very similar to what Islamic jihadists like Osama bin Laden did.
In October 2018 he proclaimed that Russian martyrs will go to heaven,
again eerily similar to what Islamists preach:
"An aggressor should know that vengeance is inevitable, that he will be annihilated, and we would be the victims of the aggression - we will go to heaven as martyrs, and they will just drop dead" (see this interview).
This completed his transformation from rational statesman to radical Christian:
his divine mission is to restore the Holy Russian Empire, just like Islamists dream of restoring the caliphate, and those who fight for him are martyrs who will go to heaven, just like the suicide bombers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
There is one big difference between this Russian prophet and the Islamist prophets: he has nuclear weapons.
- Articles on Russia before 2023