Church-state tensions in Russia

Vladimir Putin attends enthronement of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in 2009
The Kremlin’s relations with the Russian Orthodox Church have had their ups and downs since Vladimir Putin (R) attended Patriarch Kirill’s enthronement in 2009 (source: dpa)
  • The Russian Orthodox Church is the only non-state institution capable of mass mobilization
  • Patriarch Kirill has political ambitions and interests that diverge from the Kremlin’s
  • A church land grab has spurred mass protests, strengthening both Orthodox radicals and the liberal opposition
  • Rising social tensions complicate President Vladimir Putin’s bid for a fourth term

The general perception is that perfect harmony reigns between the Russian Orthodox Church, state and society – an impression reinforced by the “Crimean consensus” that emerged midway through President Vladimir Putin’s third term.

Thus, according to this view, the state lends the Church political and financial support, while the Church acts as the spiritual pillar of society. The Orthodox hierarchy, for its part, helps legitimize the state and plays a stabilizing role during domestic or external crises. Except for a few stigmatized minorities, most ordinary Russians welcome this symbiotic relationship.

The problem with this idyllic picture is that it is far from true. In fact, there are serious tensions between church, state and society in Russia. These have the potential to grow into a full-fledged conflict that could shake the whole country.

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