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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Russian church won’t forget Putin’s generosity

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITER

On the eve of the Orthodox Easter that Russia is celebrating Sunday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin played the Easter Bunny last week when he promised to commit the equivalent of $700 billion dollars to weapons modernization, launching an unannounced campaign to reclaim the presidency next year.

Whatever may happen to the public’s expectations of Mr. Putin making their country “self-reliant, independent, and strong” by 2020, his pitch is a godsend to the Russian Orthodox Church bureaucracy.

The Moscow patriarchate’s persistent refusal to accommodate the Vatican’s attempts to normalize relations between the two churches testifies to that. Other evidence is the fact that the Moscow patriarchate turned a blind eye on the persecution and even the assassination of Mr. Putin’s critics — journalists, bankers, lawyers, and politicians.

The Russian Orthodox Church still depends on the Russian government that holds the lease on the majority of the church property taken over by the state after the 1917 Bolshevik revolt. Some of it has been returned amid speculation of kickbacks.

No one either in the Putin administration or in the top church bureaucracy is interested in upsetting the status quo, which may happen should the increasingly independent President Dmitry Medvedev be re-elected and sever the umbilical cord that connects him to Mr. Putin, his mentor and former boss.

Mr. Putin has scored big time with the church by championing a draft law on restitution that was adopted last year. In return, the Moscow patriarchate has given the government its ideological support, with the focus on nationalism. With the church’s history as an ideological pillar of czarism, it would be more than naive to expect the church to turn away from Mr. Putin and his effort to complete Russia’s return to autocracy.

Mr. Putin’s effort to return to the presidency is increasingly resisted by President Medvedev, considered nothing more than Mr. Putin’s placeholder. That is, until recently.

The sacking last week of a government spokesman testifies to that.

Konstantin Poltoranin, the Federal Migration Service spokesman, was fired after telling the BBC that Russia prefers immigrants from other Slavic countries such as Ukraine and Belorussia and that “the very existence of ‘white race’ was under threat.”

The report came out Wednesday, Hitler’s birthday, and Mr. Poltoranin was fired shortly thereafter.

A Kremlin official — a representative of President Medvedev — welcomed the dismissal. But the government, including the culprit’s ultimate boss, Prime Minister Putin, was silent on the issue, showing its true colors.

In his interview, Mr. Poltoranin said that Russians were experiencing a mixing of races that was happening in the wrong way, “as evidenced by the same process in Western Europe.”

He was speaking Mr. Putin’s mind.

And just a few weeks ago — before President Medvedev started to demonstrate his budding independence from the prime minister — he would have not been in trouble at all.

But last week the deed could not go unpunished, having caused international embarrassment to President Medvedev, who has positioned himself as a more-or-less pro-Western leader, by comparison to Mr. Putin.

The Putin government simply can’t afford antagonizing its power-base — the Russian-supremacists, who, judging by the polls, comprise more than a half of the population. And the Medvedev administration is by far not yet independent enough to afford it either.

The Orthodox church is vehemently against proselytizing by other churches in Russia and therefore supports Mr. Putin, who is bound to capitalize on this support as he seeks presidency.

With Mr. Putin controlling the cash flows in Russia’s oil-pumped economy, support of the church is guaranteed.

Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer for The Blade.

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com or 419-724-6089.



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