Feb 12th 2016

Putin, the Pope, and the Patriarch

NEW YORK – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s years as a KGB officer taught him how to take advantage of others. In Steven Lee Myers’ excellent new biography, The New Tsar, the former New York Times Moscow bureau chief describes how, when Putin was posted in East Germany in the waning years of communism, he used his opponent’s weaknesses to advance the Soviet cause.

Today’s historic meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba is another occasion that Putin will seek to turn to his advantage. The meeting will be the first between a Roman Pontiff and a Russian Patriarch since Christianity’s Great Schism in 1054, when theological differences split the faith into its Western and Eastern branches. Since then, the Orthodox Church (in Russian, Pravoslavie, literally the “right worship”) has been considered the only correct form of Christianity in Russia, with other denominations dismissed for their support of individualism and insufficient reverence of the human soul.

For nearly a millennium, the animosity has seemed insurmountable. In modern times, it took the threat of nuclear war to spark efforts to mend ties between East and West – and even then the rapprochement was spearheaded primarily by Russia’s secular authorities. In 1963, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, a devout atheist, sent his son-in-law and adviser Alexei Adzhubei for a historic audience with then-Pope John XXIII.

But the real breakthrough came in 1989, when Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev met with Pope John Paul II, a Polish priest who had spent the past decade framing his papacy as part of the opposition to the Soviet’s atheistic totalitarian rule. After the fall of the Soviet Union, relations continued to warm, as Boris Yeltsin, the first President of the Russian Federation, visited the Vatican in 1991 and 1998. Objections from the Russian Orthodox Church, however, prevented the pope from accepting invitations to visit Moscow.

Relations between Russia and the Holy See took on new significance after Putin became President. Unlike the officially atheist Soviets, Putin works closely with the Orthodox Church, championing conservative social values at home and seeking to expand Russian influence abroad.

In 2007, the Russian Orthodox Church reunited with a breakaway branch, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which had split off in in protest against close ties with the Bolsheviks. “The revival of church unity is a crucial condition for revival of lost unity of the whole ‘Russian world,’ which has always had the Orthodox faith as one of its foundations,” Putin said at a ceremony marking the occasion.

The Cuban meeting provides Putin with an opportunity to become the Russian leader who oversaw the start of a dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The importance he places on this event is reflected in its very improbability.

After all, Putin and Kirill have presided over rising anti-Western animosity and turned the Russian Orthodox Church toward conservatism, nationalism, and intolerance. The Patriarch (rumored to have served in the KGB himself) has called the war in Syria “a holy struggle,” adding that, “today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world to combat [it].” In contrast, Francis is not only clearly progressive, refusing even to speak ill of homosexuals; he has repeatedly called for a peaceful solution in Syria.

In allowing the meeting to take place – and there can be no doubt that Putin has given it his blessing – Russia’s president is seeking religious validation and political popularity. The meeting also allows him to needle the West, which he resents for imposing sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine and for criticizing his intervention in Syria.

Holding the meeting in Cuba is a clever calculation. Given the sanctions on Russia, Europe was out of bounds. But Cuba, where the Soviet Union provided essential financial assistance in exchange for Fidel Castro’s slavish loyalty, offers a powerful reminder of Russia’s claim to global relevance.

The island’s leaders never denounced Christianity as fully as the Soviets did, and over the last 20 years it has been the site of three papal visits: John Paul II in 1998, Benedict XVI in 2012, and Francis in 2015. Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother and successor, had already invited the Patriarch to visit, to see first-hand that Communism and Christianity are compatible.

For Putin, the meeting could not come at a better time. Plunging oil prices, the dramatic decline in the value of the ruble, ongoing sanctions, and the increasingly bloody images coming out of Syria have left him desperate for positive news. And what better photo opportunity than having the Vicar of Christ standing side by side with your close spiritual and political ally?

Healing one of Christianity’s oldest divisions is a noble goal. But when Francis meets Putin’s Patriarch, he would be wise to remember the old English dictum: “He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon.”


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.
www.project-syndicate.org


Wikipedia:

Nina Lvovna Khrushcheva (born 1964)[1] is a Russian American professor at The New School, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute, and from 2002 to 2004 was adjunct assistant professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

Khrushcheva received a degree from Moscow State University with a major in Russian in 1987 and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton University in 1998.

Khrushcheva is the granddaughter of Leonid Khrushchev, eldest son of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. When Leonid died in World War II, Nikita adopted Leonid's two-year-old daughter Julia, Nina's mother. Nikita Khrushchev is thus Nina Khrushcheva's biological great-grandfather, but adoptive grandfather. Khrushcheva's father, Lev Petrov, died in 1970, aged 47.

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "
Jan 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, if cornered, any populist might resort to Trump’s endgame methods: trying to coerce elites into committing fraud to prevent a transfer of power, or deploying right-wing extremists on the ground to intimidate lawmakers. These desperate acts signaled Trump’s weakness. But it is important to note that most Republicans still did not disown Trump even when confronted with his blatant lawlessness on January 6. ... Other right-wing populists may well take notice of this fact. The recent events in the United States have shown that elites who are prepared to collaborate with authoritarians will tolerate quite a lot in the end. This ignominious precedent is especially likely to hold true in other countries where crony capitalism has implicated the business community in illegal behavior."    
Jan 21st 2021
EXTRACT: "May, a decent and honest woman, was far outdistanced by her successor and his colleagues in the Trump sycophancy stakes. In January 2017, Johnson’s senior fellow Brexiteer and principal ministerial fixer, Michael Gove (a former journalist with The Times newspaper), conducted an interview with then President-elect Trump that plumbed new depths of oleaginous toadyism. Gove wallowed in Trump’s endorsement of Brexit. It subsequently came to light that Gove’s then-employer, Rupert Murdoch, was in the room while the interview took place. And why not? The owner of Fox News as well as The Times was entitled to keep an eye on his two protégés."
Jan 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Does anyone really think that the vast majority of Republican legislators who could not bring themselves to object to the attempted coup at the Capitol — or any of the other outrageous antics Trump has unleashed on America for the past four years — will suddenly experience sleepless nights and pangs of conscience now that he is gone? Au contraire. This band of spineless, morally bankrupt congresspeople and senators are far more likely to follow Trump and carry Trumpism into the 2024 presidential election." ..... "A recent survey of Europeans revealed that the majority believe that America’s political system is hopelessly broken, that President Biden will be unable to halt its decline on the world stage, and that China will become the world’s leading power within a decade. What if they are right? America’s Trump-inspired death spiral has practically ensured any real recovery will likely take decades — and multiple terms with a Democratic president and Congress at the helm — to achieve."
Jan 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "What our polling tells us is that what the peoples of Middle East want is regional unity and investment in the future that can bring peace and prosperity. They’ve had enough of war and want ​stable employment, education, health care, and better future for their children. It’s time we start listening to them."
Jan 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Trump intentionally and directly incited the insurrection of January 6. But he does not bear sole responsibility. Every one of his enablers, and the enablers of his enablers, is guilty. Fox Corp’s hidden backers, especially those who are so fond of touting their piety, must now ask themselves, as the Gospel of Mark instructs: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? "
Jan 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "What’s astonishing is that the bottom 50% reduced their borrowing over roughly the same period, but their debt servicing costs increased. Over this time, smaller corporations saw their profit margins dip consistently into negative territory. The decades-long fall in interest rates appears to be the only thing that has kept smaller corporations afloat. Smaller corporations thus appear to be caught in a vicious circle. The fact that their debt-servicing burdens have increased sharply despite deleveraging and falling interest rates points toward rapidly deteriorating financial fortunes. This is reaffirmed by the severe losses registered in their negative profit margins."
Jan 11th 2021
EXTRACT: " The answer can’t be to pretend that the crisis is now over or to believe that the way forward can be found by simply impeaching the President or using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. That will not do. January 6th had antecedents. And more than one man has responsibility for what happened."
Jan 10th 2021
EXTRACTS: ”Not everyone who mobbed the Capitol on 1/6 was a terrorist, but there were many terrorists among them. Some people came armed, or with ties for taking congressional representatives and senators hostage. Some were desperately looking for Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi in order to assassinate them….” …… ”Although the Capitol police had a major failure when they did not stop the breach of the building by the mob, they were remarkably successful at spiriting the politicians down to the basement and its tunnels that led to nearby offices.” ….. “The goal of the Trump-inspired insurrection was to stop Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president. Trump moved on several levels to accomplish that goal. He conspired with senators to have them object to the Arizona and Pennsylvania vote counts. In fact, he was trying to convince senators to join this effort by telephone even after the Capitol had been breached and senators were being escorted to the basement, according to Mike Lee. He also tried to disrupt the proceedings by encouraging the breach of the Capitol by a flashmob and by cadres. He may have stopped security forces from being deployed, as part of his coup, to ensure that the insurrection was not stopped prematurely.” …… “Significant blows have been dealt to the Trump terrorist network in the past two days, but the vast well of support it has built up among less violent supporters, and among media enablers like Fox, Breitbart and Newsmax, will make it very difficult to root out.”