We at the Jordan Center stand with all the people of Ukraine, Russia, and the rest of the world who oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See our statement here.

Above: Patriarch Kirill of Moscow meets virtually with Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia on April 27, 2022. Source

Lucian N. Leustean is a Reader in Politics and International Relations at Aston University, Birmingham, United Kingdom. This op-ed was supported by the author’s participation as Senior Fellow in the Orthodoxy and Human Rights project, sponsored by Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, and generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and Leadership 100.

A version of this piece recently appeared on Religion Unplugged.

Russia’s protection of “spiritual values” in its 2021 National Security Strategy suggests five plausible scenarios for the end of its war in Ukraine. These are: a return to the nineteenth-century geopolitical empire, the development of a “Eurasian civilization,” the emergence of Christian traditionalism, the “Syrianisation” of Ukraine, and the establishment of a broader European community.

Approved by the Presidential Edict 683 on December 31, 2015, the Russian Federation’s National Security Strategy included a section on “state and public security.” In a surprising departure from genre, Article 43, which deals with “threats to state and public security,” ranked “[destruction of] traditional Russian religious and moral values” in third place, immediately after “intelligence and other activity by special services” and “terrorist and extremist organizations.” The document thus implied that protecting religious values was more important than “the activities of criminal organizations and groups,” “criminal offenses,” and “corruption.”

On July 2, 2021, Russia updated the 2015 document with a revised National Security Strategy approved by Presidential Edict 400. The latest version presents the most detailed statement yet of Russia’s position on the relationship between religion and national security. Article 28, for instance, stipulates that “Russian spiritual and moral ideals and cultural and historical values […] are the foundation for the further development of the country.” A lengthy section spanning Articles 84-93 titled “The protection of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, culture and historical memory” offers a holistic approach to religion and security, asserting that all of “humanity is faced with the threat of losing traditional spiritual and moral guidelines” and that “traditional Russian spiritual, moral, cultural and historical values are under active attack from the United States and its allies.”

The significance of religion in advancing security strategies was highlighted on April 26, 2022 by Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and former director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in an interview with the governmental mouthpiece Rossiiskaya gazeta. Patrushev argued that “our spiritual and moral values ​​allow us to remain ourselves, to be honest with our ancestors, to preserve the individual, society and the state.” By contrast, “the Europeans” have “made a different choice [… by adopting liberal values]. Washington and Brussels make no secret of the fact that their sanctions are aimed at both material and spiritual impoverishment of Russians.” Religion thus has a prime position in Russia’s security strategy, providing insight into its stance in diplomatic negotiations.

In order to assess when Russia’s war on Ukraine will end, we must consider five possible scenarios, all informed by the new National Security Concept.

Scenario 1: Return to nineteenth-century geopolitical empire.

In the nineteenth century, Russia supported the national aspirations of Orthodox Christian populations in southeastern Europe under the Ottoman Empire. Under the guise of defending the Orthodox faithful, Russian troops regularly advanced through the region, which the Russian state perceived as a key geopolitical link to Western Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. It is arguably in support of this vision, that, in the February 22 speech Putin gave just before launching his invasion of Ukraine, he denied that it had ever been an independent state and re-emphasized the religious unity of the two countries. In Putin’s view, “Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.” Attempts to establish a land corridor in southern Ukraine, the shelling of Odesa, and efforts to join Russian troops in Transnistria recall Russia’s historical quest for “spiritual space” beyond its own borders and its longstanding geopolitical ambitions. Following this thinking, the war will stop when Russia reaches the Danube Delta on the border with Romania, which would theoretically enable the further expansion of its sphere of religious and geopolitical influence in southeastern Europe.

Scenario 2: The development of a “Eurasian civilization.”

An extreme version of Russia’s defense of spiritual values was put forward by Aleksander Dugin, a philosopher rumored to have close ties to the Kremlin (though some scholars dispute Dugin’s proximity to the halls of power). His Foundation of Geopolitics (1997), which imagines a Russian-led Eurasian Empire extending from Dublin to Vladisvostok, remains a key reading in Russia’s military universities. In Dugin’s view, “Ukraine, as an independent state with certain territorial ambitions, represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia.” After the start of Russia’s invasion, Dugin claimed that “Russia is destined to win” because “we have no alternative.” The war, he added, “is an existential threat to us, so victory is our only choice.” That the idea of a “Eurasian civilization” retains influence in Putin’s inner circle is evident from former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he framed as a step towards achieving an “open Eurasia, from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” Nuclear threats and the use of apocalyptic messages in defending “Eurasian civilization” adds to the intensity of the conflict and the unpredictability of political decision-making on all sides. Because of the existential threat presented by Russia’s nuclear arsenal, there is a chance that the war might be allowed to extend for years to come, transforming into what some Kremlin ideologues—and possibly Putin himself—are eager to understand as a permanent, quasi-religious war between East and West.

Scenario 3: The emergence of Christian traditionalism.

Over the last two decades, Eastern Orthodox Christianity has been divided between liberal and conservative communities. The establishment of a national Church outside Moscow’s jurisdiction has exacerbated the division lines between the Russian Orthodox Church and its adherents outside Russia, on the one hand, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, on the other. Religious diplomacy has supported Russian exceptionalism in the Eastern Orthodox world as high-ranking Russian clergy regularly visit the West, Latin America, and Asia to promote the infamous Russkiy mir (Russian world) concept. In December 2021, Moscow even set up a “Patriarchal Exarchate in Africa” in the service of proselytizing this politico-religious doctrine. In his sermon of March 6, 2022, Patriarch Kirill helped justify Russia’s war on Ukraine by linking it to a larger mission to maintain endangered “traditional” values. “If humanity comes to believe that sin is not a violation of God’s law, if humanity imagines sin as just another type of human behavior,” he warned, “then that is where human civilization will end.” The war in Ukraine could thus end with the emergence of a new denomination of global Christianity—Christian traditionalism—with churches following Moscow’s narrative becoming gradually detached from the larger fellowship of Eastern Orthodox organizations.

Scenario 4: The “Syrianisation” of Ukraine.

The Moscow Patriarchate has also supported Russia’s military participation in the Syrian conflict. The intertwining of Russia’s religious- and security-based goals for Ukraine are taking a page from strategies the Kremlin already deployed in Syria, which included the consecration of the Saint George Chapel at the Khmeimim Syrian airbase in 2016; financial support toward rebuilding destroyed churches; the involvement of clergy in exchanges of prisoners of war; and the “soft power” element of high-level meetings with Catholic prelates involved in raising awareness of Christian persecution in the Middle East. Thus far, two moments in the present conflict stand out as similar to these earlier events: first, the virtual meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Russia and Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia on April 27, 2022, in which both clergymen lamented the fate of refugees in Ukraine (with the latter expressing support for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church); and second, the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian Church’s humanitarian work in the Donbas region. These parallels again suggest that the war in Ukraine may become protracted, ending only after a resolution is reached in Syria.

Scenario 5: The establishment of a broader European community.

The European Union remains a largely political and economic project with no pan-European policy on religion, which is usually left to individual nations to work out. However, despite the absence of religion as an issue within the European integration process, religious and political leaders have regularly shared their visions of Europe’s future. What might the EU’s founding fathers—Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, and Alcide De Gaspari—advise with respect to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? The French President Emmanuel Macron offered a possible answer to this question by proposing the establishment of a new European political community centered around core values like energy and security. What is missing from Macron’s proposal, but was present in the founding fathers’ vision, was the idea of Europe as a “community of nations” rather than a “union of nation-states.”

Due to its enormous size and near-monopoly on crucial natural resources, Russia remains an integral part of Europe. Ending the current war will require not only political and military compromise, but also serious consideration of religion as an important element of Russian-European relations going forward. For example, a new treaty replacing the 2009 Lisbon Treaty could emphasize the concept of “community,” which is already mentioned in earlier versions of the document (e.g. “the European economic community” or “the European steel and coal community.”) The EU’s definition of “community” could expand to encompass not only mutual political and economic benefit, but also new forms of religious affiliation capable of bringing East and West together. Under this larger umbrella, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Russia might all find ways to identify with broader, “European” goals.

Other strategies that could either be incorporated into the five listed above or develop in their own right might include: setting up a religious tribunal administered by international religious organizations to condemn the politicization of religion; mediation by religious leaders at sacred Orthodox Christian sites; drawing together military expertise with the humanitarian work of religious communities; commitments to maintain not only military, but religious status quo; and providing humanitarian support to populations in need that might shift the military and political balance of power.

Conclusion: How will the war end?

No matter which scenario has a higher chance of coming to pass, a diplomatic process that does not take into account the social and political roles of religion is bound to fail, while also further eroding relations among Russia, Ukraine, and the EU.

Russia’s war on Ukraine must end not only through the cessation of violence, but also with a reassessment of the part religion has to play in global geopolitics. To end this war and prevent future ones, it is vital to rethink European relations with an eye to the complex interface of religion and security.


With Russia’s War in Ukraine, Aeroflot Faces Unfriendly Skies, Part II

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Yesterday’s post addressed the new cold war in the skies, which has divided the West from Russia as a consequence of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Sanctions against Russia’s aviation sector and the country’s retaliatory measures have unmade many of Russia’s global air routes, which the Soviet Union began building in the mid-1950s. Yet this sector, I hazard to predict, will likely weather sanctions by recreating the illiberal regime of air travel that characterized Aeroflot in the Soviet era.

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What Russian Rap Can Teach Us About Russian (Anti-)War Discourse

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At the other end of the spectrum from Oxxxymiron and FACE is one of the few high-profile artists speaking in defense of Russia’s invasion: the rapper and MMA enthusiast Timati, who has released several statements explaining the invasion as a “forced measure” enabled by Western funding and agitation. The infamously pro-Kremlin rapper (see his now-deleted video with Guf entitled “Moscow,” one of the most disliked videos in Russian YouTube history) vehemently defended Russia and his own patriotic stance, while still claiming to be against the loss of “innocent” life.

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A Woman’s Lot: Realism and Gendered Narration in Russian Women’s Writing of the 1860s

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In March 1862, the first part of a novel titled Zhenskaia dolia [A Woman’s Lot] appeared in the leading Russian literary journal Sovremennik [The Contemporary]. The publication was signed “N. Stanitskii.” Loyal readers would have recognized a name that had appeared in nearly every issue of the journal for the last fifteen years. Like the rest of “Stanitskii’s” fiction, Zhenskaia dolia offered a contribution to the debate on women’s rights.

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Reimagining Imperial Russia in “Russia: My History” Parks

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“Russia My History” and other, similar history parks are a remarkable testament to the state of historical memory in Russia today. These expensive and intricately crafted productions make clear the importance of the imperial narrative to the “soft power” component of Russia’s statecraft. The Romanovs exhibit in particular accords with the stilted view of the past that Russia’s political center has been crafting for decades. As the war in Ukraine demonstrates, these types of geopolitical narratives are anything but harmless. 

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Old habits die hard. One especially pernicious “habit” that has resurfaced during the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the claim that Adolf Hitler, the man who led the attempted annihilation of European Jewry, was himself part Jewish. At a May 1 press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Ukraine could still harbor Nazi elements even though its president, Voldymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.

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Forcing Consensus: A Show Debate in the Early GDR

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Whereas Stalin’s show trials featured confessions and executions, the aim of the show debate was to persuade the institute’s council of party members at the institute, the party-group to drop their support for Behrens and Benary and publicly announce both the dogmatic and revisionist character of the ideas. The debate took place between January and April 1957 at the bimonthly meetings of the party-group.

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Grassroots Glasnost in East Berlin

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On 30 May 1989, a black pictogram of a camera framed in red with a diagonal red slash appeared on two major landmarks in East Berlin’s central Alexanderplatz. The message was unmistakable: no photography allowed. Some ran home to grab cameras and returned to defy the order. Another man quickly hid his camera, and a West German tourist exclaimed “typical East,” assuming the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) was behind the regulation. But this was no act of state. In fact, “Photography Forbidden” was an art action from East German artist and conceptual photographer Kurt Buchwald. During the action, Buchwald captured responses to the signs with photographs of his own. This caught the attention of a nearby police officer, who pointed to the signs and informed Buchwald he must stop. Buchwald ignored the warning, and the officer arrested him. The arresting officer soon learned the signs were connected to a city-approved experimental art festival. Buchwald was free to go.

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Digital Authoritarianism at War: Controlling Russia’s Information Space

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The unprecedented sanctions and the exodus of many international technology companies from Russia is understandable, but their absence risks ceding the information space to the Kremlin. Cutting off Russian users from international platforms makes it easier for the Kremlin to isolate the Russian public from all but its carefully-crafted narratives.

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There is no doubt that the recent focus on diversity and race in our field has had a positive impact, providing much needed–but hitherto absent–institutional support for mentoring and recruiting Black students who can bring fresh perspectives to the study of the region. Yet because of contingency, these up-and-coming experts risk falling into the same kind of precarious employment that education promised to bring them out of. Instead of helping these young scholars, the recruitment of them risks reproducing the racial-class hierarchies of the broader economy in our own field, luring Black and other underrepresented students into a profession with a declining number of opportunities for stable employment. 

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This is not the time to give in to techno-pessimism, nor over-rely on techno-optimism—though closing the sky is long overdue and those fighter jets are sorely needed! Also needed is the development of and financial incentivization for more sustainable green energies. When Russia’s war on Ukraine is over, Ukrainians and the world will have to confront that other “secret war.” The environmental nightmare facing Polissia and the nonhuman across Ukraine is, after all, another Soviet legacy that sovereign, independent Ukraine is more than capable of taking on.

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Anticommunist discourse has long since ceased to advance the democratization of society by means of depoliticization and “decommunization.” Instead, it has become a discourse that protects the privileges of the winners of the transition from socialism to capitalism. The disparaging of socialist-era film by anticommunist cultural elites must be read in this key primarily—as an instrument of maintaining cultural hegemony—and not as an effort to provide better “context” for understanding the past.

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While Ukraine is winning the hearts and minds of Europe and North America, it is losing the propaganda war in the rest of the world. The role of the United States in global affairs in recent decades is so dominant that much of the public in China, India, Vietnam and elsewhere seem to have bought the Russian narrative that this is a war to stop Western expansion and domination. 

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Save Ukrainian Cultural Heritage!

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What we are doing in the virtual cloud depends on what happens there, on a battleground. There is a list of cities and towns currently under attack, and it is getting longer. The archivists first go to high-risk collections, trying hard to get ahead of time to create copies. Each hour, under shelling, the flickering lights of Ukrainian culture risk disappearing into the darkness of oblivion.

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I recently attended a workshop where each participant presented their observations about the state of national identity in the Baltic States. One of my arguments in the workshop was that emotions of (national) pride and shame are relational facets of national identity, and that in the post-Soviet space this emotional dynamic has been affected by Western expertise. Diplomats and others introduced neoliberal reforms and ideas to the Latvian “transformation elite,” a term I use to denote the Latvian political leadership that guided and governed the country’s post-Soviet transformation.

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Book Review: Yuri Tynianov’s “Permanent Evolution: Selected Essays on Literature, Theory, and Film”

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Despite his sizable contributions to Russian Formalism, Yuri Tynianov remains a largely understudied figure in the West. Whether a victim of canonization or cross-cultural barriers, his work continues to evade anthologies and course syllabi outside of Slavic Studies departments, much to the detriment of literary studies. Ainsley Morse and Philip Redko’s translated volume “Permanent Evolution: Selected Essays on Literature, Theory and Film” (Academic Studies Press, 2019) seeks to buck this trend.

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