Russia's Soft Power: A Matter for Church and State

September 10, 2015


DAVID SPEEDIE: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the Carnegie Council. I'm David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement. This is our opening night for the new program season. It's wonderful to see a full house in the inclement, but welcome, weather that we're having today.

This is an interesting topic for us, a rather arresting topic: Russia's Soft Power: A Matter for Church and State.

Let me just say, very briefly, how we came to this. The fact is that in the current really frosty climate of U.S.-Russian relations, there is much attention to what Russia sees as its strategic interests—political, military, geographic. Of course, some would say on our side that there are no valid interests for Russia at all, but that's a different question.

But of equal importance for understanding Russian attitudes we really need a grasp of the values behind the moral framework that Russia sees as being behind its foreign policy. In Ukraine, for example, even as the West deplores what it sees as Russian adventurism, first in Crimea, then in the Eastern regions, I think it's fair to say that Russia sees itself as occupying the high moral ground by defending its core values, national sense of honor in the context of the unique historical, religious, and cultural bonds with Ukraine.

So the values here are both important and, I think, underestimated, or at least understudied. That's what we are trying to accomplish here. And, I would say, in the course of the coming program season we will be adopting this as a theme, looking at the question of values and not just hardcore interests.

A key term here is one that will come up, I'm sure, in the conversation, Russkiy Mir [Русский мир], or "the Russian World," and the concept implied in that. As we'll hear this evening, this is a values-loaded term. Exploring this and the whole terrain of Russian values are three experts who have thought deeply and written authoritatively on this topic. I will introduce them in just a moment.

I just want to say that we are doing this as a co-sponsorship with the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia at New York University. Yanni Kotsonis, the director of the school, was to be with us, but he is stranded in downtown Manhattan and asked me to say "good evening" on his behalf. So this is a co-sponsorship with the Council and the Jordan School at NYU.

To our distinguished panel. To my immediate right, Nicolai Petro is the professor of comparative and international politics at the University of Rhode Island. Nicolai will lead off with a summary of the moral framework as it applies to current foreign policy in Russia and how that framework differs from that of the West—indeed, in Russian eyes, how it might be more conducive to a stable international order than the values that are perpetuated in the West.

Second, Nadia Kizenko is an associate professor at the State University of New York at Albany. Nadia will focus on the other key player in the articulation of Russkiy Mir other than the state, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Church's articulation of its vision of Russkiy Mir and the public attitudes to the role of religion in the policy discussion in Russia.

Finally, our old friend Nikolas Gvosdev. Nick is the professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Nick will summarize and, in a sense, draw the two other presentations together, and he will focus particularly on what we call Russian "soft power," "soft power" projections, in a sense, perhaps, I suppose you might say, the international exportation of the idea of Russkiy Mir, or the Russian World.

So it's a fascinating topic. It's one that we look forward to developing. This is our kickoff event.

Nicolai, would you lead us off?


NICOLAI PETRO: Thank you very much, David.

My topic is to cover Russia's moral framework in 10 minutes. [Laughter] So I will be concise.

Russia's moral framework, particularly as it applies to contemporary Russian foreign policy, differs markedly from that of the West. While post-Soviet Russia has no guiding ideology, it does argue that certain values, if adopted as shared principles of behavior, are more congenial to international order than others.

Russia hopes that such principles of behavior will be more widely adopted by states. But, cognizant that each nation's cultural development is unique, it opposes efforts to promote any one set of ethical values beyond its borders. Hence, the only time that the international community may legitimately appeal to transnational ethical norms is when these are sanctioned by the United Nations. This is a high bar, but, Russia argues, it has been set that way on purpose to avoid abuse.

The specific values that Russia sees as more congenial to international order are those shared by Russia's four traditional religious communities: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Their interaction with each other and with the state, Russia argues, demonstrates that religions need not be a source of conflict in the modern world. Indeed, Russian spokesmen have often argued that Western nations could learn a lot from the Russian model.

This moral framework has led to four areas of friction with the West:

  • The first regards the nature of the international order. Since the rise of human rights and democracy as foreign policy goals during the 1970s, Western politicians have increasingly argued that in the best of all possible worlds foreign policy is a reflection of domestic politics. The theory built around this assumption, called democratic peace theory, in its most popular form is taken to suggest that democracies do not go to war with each other. States that promote democracy are, therefore, promoting a morally desirably international order; whereas states that object to such efforts are immoral.
  • As their concerns about democracy and human rights have outpaced those of international institutions, Western nations have sought ways around such institutions. One way they have done so is by asserting that Western values are the de facto, if not de jure, international standard. When several Western nations act in concert, therefore, they do not require any explicit United Nations mandate. This has been a second source of considerable friction between Russia and the West.
  • A third source of tension stems from the erosion of traditional religions as the arbiters of morality in the West. For some in the West, it follows that international society must now also find an alternative normative framework. Since the values of individualism, secularism, and modernization led to the rise of the West, according to this line of thinking, they serve as appropriate benchmarks for the rest of humanity.
  • Finally, in today's Russia the Orthodox Church is closely partnered with the state. It provides intellectual and moral support to many state policies—not, in my opinion, because it has to, but because it wants to. The current moral framework of Russian foreign policy is indeed its view, which the Church promotes because it is convinced that creating such a congenial international order will assist it in its threefold salvific mission: to save individual souls, to save all national cultures that have been baptized into Christ, and to save all mankind. Needless to say, this is as far from the doctrine of separation of church and state as East is from West.

The moral contours of the present East-West conflict should now be readily apparent. Russia opposes the adoption of any single set of cultural values as the standard for international behavior. The West counters that Western values are not just a lone cultural standard but the de facto universal standard. Russia labels this unilateralism and advocates a multipolar world based on pluriculturalism as a better alternative.

Pluriculturalism argues that there is an inherent—or, as Putin would say, God-given—value to diversity among nations. This is distinct from multiculturalism, which values diversity within nations. Russia assigns diversity within nations a lower priority than it does diversity among nations. By contrast, Western states more typically prize diversity within nations, the rights of the individual, whereas among nations they seek to subordinate national cultural differences to standards, such as human rights, that derive from modern Western values.

The potential for international conflict is obvious. But it is hardly inevitable. For one thing, if we look at this debate in the historical and religious context, we begin to see that it has deep roots in the West. Russia's pluriculturalism, for example, the view that national cultural distinctions impose certain moral limits on foreign policy, used to be called American exceptionalism, and was typically cited as the reason America does not go abroad, as John Quincy Adams put it, "in search of monsters to destroy." Contrast this to Obama's view last year, stated at his West Point address, that "America must always lead on the world stage because if we don't no one else will," which takes it for granted that subjecting all nations to America's leadership is a moral good.

Just how much our moral framework has shifted over time can be gleaned from the fact that today probably the best-known articulator in the world of Adams' concern that "should America become the dictatress of the world, she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit" is not even an American. It is Vladimir Putin.

Nor is the Orthodox Church's moral framework as anti-modern or anti-liberal as it appears to be at first blush. If one looks carefully, I believe one will find the writings of senior Russian clergy on these subjects to be quite nuanced, arguing that the Enlightenment and liberalism were both valuable and progressive social ideals in their day, but that, having abandoned the moral framework provided by the Church, they have deformed and become monstrous.

What the Orthodox Church does reject, and this wholeheartedly, is secularism, and the fact that contemporary Western societies tend to regard secularism, along with modernity and liberalism, as forming the quintessential Western trinity of values, is something that the Russian Orthodox Church is keen to reverse.

This is, of course, a conflict of visions, and some political fallout from it is inevitable. It is also quite understandable that in secular discourse the Russian Orthodox Church is often treated as a political actor—because it is. It is also an economic actor, a legal actor, a cultural actor, an educational action. In sum, it is active in literally every sphere of public life.

But one way to mitigate the political repercussions that derive from our conflicting eschatologies might be to recognize just how little any of this means to the Orthodox Church. We should never lose sight of the fact that the Church sees itself, first and foremost, as a supernatural actor, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in history. What do political battles matter when one is competing for every individual's soul, for the very soul of mankind? This is the only struggle that has meaning for the Church, its raison d'être, and the outcome of this struggle will not be decided by politics.

I have one final thought reflecting on the tools that the Church has as its disposal. In this all-defining battle, the Church has an almost insurmountable advantage over all political actors, governments, and even nations: its timeframe for success is eternity, which is awfully hard to beat.

Thank you.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Thank you, Nicolai. That was a masterful 10 minutes or so, showing us that the deep divide is not only among interests but indeed values.

And now, picking up on the role of the Church, Nadia Kizenko. Thank you.

NADIA KIZENKO: When we talk about the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in formulating the "soft power" moral component of Russian foreign policy, most of us tend to assume that that means Patriarch Kirill and the bishops who surround him. We might think of—I don't know—Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate. Or we might think of Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, the abbot of the celebrated Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, the writer of the bestselling book Everyday Saints, the editor-in-chief of the leading Russian Orthodox website, recently featured in a Financial Times magazine story called "Putin and the Monk." Or there is Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, chairman of the Synodal Department for the Cooperation of Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate and a member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation.

All of these men have something in common. At the risk of stating the obvious, they are all men. Then, they are all men in black—that is, they are ordained clerics or hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church. They all regularly make public pronouncements on the relations between Russia and the West and on Russian foreign policy in general, and so it might seem as if, if one wants to know what the opinion of the Russian Orthodox Church is on Russian foreign policy and what the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on Russian foreign policy is or is not, we should look at such men and see what they are saying and whether it does or does not actually influence Russian foreign policy. Or should we? Let us take a look at some of their pronouncements.

Perhaps the most familiar is the notion of Russkiy Mir that David has already alluded to, that my colleague Nicolai has written about for the Carnegie Council website. But most of the world only started noticing this notion when Vladimir Putin formed the Russkiy Mir Fund in 2007 to promote the Russian language, Russian heritage, and supporting Russian-language teaching abroad.

But the first person to actually articulate a notion of Russkiy Mir was not Vladimir Putin but Patriarch Kirill 15 years ago, before he was even patriarch. It took years for the Russian state under Vladimir Putin to embrace it.

Now, my point here is that, even with the more misguided assumption that the "third Rome" theory supposedly explains messianic Russian foreign policy, one must be very careful about attributing whatever churchmen say as shaping the actual decisions of Russian rulers.

After all, who of us remembers that in his famous text the monk Philotheus of Pskov spent most of his time urging the ruler of Russia to go after people who make the sign of the cross badly, who destroy churches, and who commit the sin of sodom? No one. But everyone remembers the throwaway bit about the "third Rome" theory—which, by the way, Russian rulers never adopted as policy—not in 1523 when it was articulated, not in any of the many wars that Russia fought with the Ottomans, not in the 20th century, and certainly not now.

So one may not like the direction in which the patriarch is going with Russkiy Mir, but one can legitimately say that he, and not Vladimir Putin, got there first.

That brings me to my second point. We are here to talk about the Russian Orthodox Church and "soft power." But the Russian Orthodox Church is not synonymous with Patriarch Kirill or Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, or any man in black for that matter. The Russian Orthodox Church also contains representatives from lay Orthodox civil society, many of whom are critical of the official positions of the Church. They include Biblical scholars, historians, journalists, many others. They even include women. They do.

Now, for that matter, the Russian Orthodox Church also includes radical right-wingers who, although they claim to be acting in the name of Orthodoxy, go much further than any man in black. They include political fundamentalists, contemporary pan-Slavists, neo-Eurasianists like Aleksandr Dugin, and so-called Orthodox communists. Although these all use Russian Orthodoxy to bolster their legitimacy, they are not exactly the voice of the Church.

But one does not need to be critical of the Russian Orthodox Church to be convincing. Indeed, among the most convincing voices are those within the Church who remind us that there is a different perspective through which to look at the Church and civil society in present-day Russia. Deacon Kuraev is one example. But even better is a recent article that Sergei Chapnin, who is the deputy editor-in-chief for the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, not exactly a fringe publication, wrote for an Orthodox publication in which he challenged the reigning wisdom that Russian Church revival began in 1988 with the celebration of the millennium of the baptism of Rus'. And by the way, why that date? Is it because it's the millennium of Christianity in Rus', or is it because it's in 1988 that the Russian state—which by the way was still Soviet, let's not forget, in 1988—recognized that the Church might actually have something special to add to the discussion and that this was not just another date on the calendar?

When does Church revival by this measure end? Perhaps in 2012, after the notorious performance of a punk group on the ambo of the rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Why choose that as the end-date of Church revival? Because that, Chapnin argues, is when the Russian state took upon itself the mantle of protecting sacred space—in other words, "We will go after people who defile sacred space." But that means, Chapnin argues, that the state actually doesn't need the Church anymore to do that; the state can handle the protection business on its own.

So the Russian Orthodox Church perhaps is no longer so much about the pastoral care exemplified by the brilliant missionary Archpriest Alexander Men, murdered 15 years ago, almost exactly to the date, on September 9, 1990. The Russian Orthodox Church is now about the development and maintenance of property and assets and the propaganda of patriotism and so-called "traditional" values.

But we're in New York, so we might ask, as we ask in New York, "But is it good for the Church?" Well, we need to distinguish between the internal versus the external appeal of the "soft power" of the Russian Orthodox Church. Is it working abroad and is it working at home?

Russkiy Mir, the Russian World, is not very appealing in, let's say, Ukraine or Belarus or Latvia, the very places where it was supposed to work. Yes, Orthodox Ukrainians and Belarusians may accept a common Orthodox Christian heritage stemming from Grand Prince Vladimir's baptism into Christianity in 988. That is not surprising. But even though Patriarch Kirill keeps stressing that the Russian World does not equal the Russian Federation, even those people who may love the Slavic Orthodox Christian heritage may not want to be linked to the politics of Vladimir Putin.

By contrast—and I think this is something that Nick Gvosdev will be talking about—it may play in Peoria. There are many Americans and Europeans who have no interest in the Russian World as such, whatsoever, but who do love the traditional conservative values that Vladimir Putin and the patriarch are claiming.

But I will end with a question, and that is: How does this version of sinfonia (symphony) play at home?

The hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church has been placing itself on a very specific side of the Russian culture wars. In the West, the Pussy Riot affair that I alluded to earlier is perhaps the best known. But one could point to more recent events from this summer. One could look at the vandalism by the so-called Orthodox activist Dmitry Enteo of the crucifixion statue by the 1970s' nonconformist sculptor Vadim Sidur. Or there was the destruction just a few weeks ago by a man dressed as a Cossack of a bas-relief of the famous basso profondo Feodor Chaliapin in the role of Mephistopheles on an art nouveau building in St. Petersburg.

Now, civil society in Russia seems to be regarding the Russian Orthodox Church as being on the wrong side in these debates. According to a recent poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, the proportion of Russians who see religion in general as doing more good than harm has fallen from 61 percent in 1990 to 36 percent now, whereas those who see religion as doing more harm than good has risen from 5 percent in 1990 to 23 percent of the Russian population now. This is not a great verdict for the success of the PR of the Russian Orthodox Church.

And that's too bad actually, because there are many wonderful things that the Russian Orthodox Church could legitimately point to. It was my privilege this summer to be part of a pilgrimage by train to visit the birthplace of St. John of Kronstadt in Sura, a.k.a. the middle of almost nowhere, in Russia. The convents and the parish in the name of St. John of Kronstadt does really wonderful work with charity, with outreach, with looking after the elderly, with looking after the unemployed. There are people in Yekaterinburg who are doing really wonderful work with providing services for the deaf. That, I submit, is the kind of "soft power" that the Russian Orthodox Church ought to be concentrating on.

Thank you.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Thanks, Nadia. Church politics are always fascinating, but I hope we get some questions on that last point, about what the Church is and ought it to be doing more.

Nick, wrap us up, please.


My typical disclaimer, since I work for the federal government, is that my comments are my own personal opinions and observations and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. government.   

Some of my colleagues wondered why I was coming down to speak on this topic, because they said, "Well, Russia doesn't really have 'soft power.' Why is Carnegie devoting a session to this?" They point to things like the recent Pew poll, which said, look at how low Russia's international ratings are; it's not seen as a model by people throughout Europe and in other parts of the world, people don't talk about emulating a Russian form of governance, and the like. I think that misses the point. Yes, there is the idea of "soft power" as international popularity, the idea that your country has institutions or culture that others seek to ape or to imitate.

But there is another type of "soft power." That is in the realm of ideology, and not for the mass consumption but among governing elites and among political movements. Here I do think that there is an important segment of Russian "soft power" that we should be looking at, that we should be concerned with.

It goes back exactly to what Nick started our conversation with, which is in the rise of the 21st century, as we've seen the erosion of the American unipolar moment, with that has come an erosion in the confidence that 20 years ago, the idea that we had reached the so-called "end of history," that the West had ended the ideological struggle in the world, and that essentially all we needed to do was to wait for the rest of the world to catch up to where the West was in terms of values, and with that the idea that Western values were de facto universal, and if other countries hadn't adopted them yet—and of course the debate in the West was, "Well, do we wait for them, do we encourage them, or in some cases do we force them through intervention to adopt a Western standard?" Certainly, these were things that we saw in the debates in the 1990s and in the early 2000s.

What has happened is that Russia has emerged in a way to provide an answer to that question that we are seeing has an impact beyond Russia itself and has an impact beyond the immediate areas where the Russian Orthodox Church may have influence. I think Nadia made a good point, which is that the Russkiy Mir idea, which was supposed to be about in-gathering nations and cultures across the former Soviet Union and across the Eurasian space to forming a larger national cultural entity has begun to falter.

But the other aspects, which are not as connected to Russkiy Mir but which come out of the articulation of some of these principles, does have resonance, and we are seeing it resonate among the rise of the new left and the new right in Europe and among the rise of more nationally oriented leaders in other parts of the world—whether it's Shinzo Abe in Japan, Benjamin Netanyahu and some of the rise of the new right in Israel, now President Erdoğan in Turkey—that there are themes that have been articulated by the Russian establishment, that have been articulated by intellectuals associated with the church and state, which have an appeal and which are beginning to form the basis of a pushback against the idea that the West represents the final say in terms of what constitutes human rights, democracy, and international standards.

So what are some of these ideas as we've seen them?

The first is the critique of the West as having gone overboard with individual values, prioritizing the individual at the expense of society, at the expense of tradition, at the expense of some degree of social harmony, the idea that an individual's preferences can trump what a society may need for its internal cohesion. Nick pointed to this, this idea of multiculturalism within societies versus having respect for diversity among nations, but each nation having the ability to, in essence, set its general moral framework without that moral framework being judged, with each country being able to, in essence, set what it thinks democracy ought to be.

We have seen the Russian pushback in this in recent years, saying that the United States and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] are not the only arbiters of whether an election is free or fair. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation now has its own set of election observers, which can come out from India, from China, from other states of Central Asia, to say, "Well, maybe it doesn't accord with how the United States or Britain or Germany might run an election, but that doesn't mean that it is necessarily illegitimate," so this idea that nations can set these types of standards.

This is now beginning to resonate with the rise of an interesting group of leaders in Central Europe, which everyone assumed would automatically be anti-Russian because of the experience of the Cold War, but now some of these ideas have resonance. We have seen that in Slovakia, we certainly see it with Prime Minister Orbán in Hungary, embracing this idea that the West and Western Europe and the United States don't get to set the rules as to how democracy is to be understood or what constitutes legitimacy. So there is certainly an appeal there.

This idea that the world is better served by a multipolar system and that you get world order by having agreement and buy-in from all the major powers, not just simply the United States and Western Europe acting on behalf of an imagined international community. In a way, there is no international community. There are states, and states have their interests, they have their own ways of doing things.

And of course what we've seen with the optics, the rise of the BRICS [Brazil, Russian, India, China, South Africa], has been very interesting. If you look at the last G7 Summit Meeting, you have President Barack Obama and you have Shinzo Abe from Japan, but otherwise it looks to be a very monochrome group of world leaders claiming to speak on behalf of the international community.

And then you look at the recent BRICS Summit in Ufa, and you have President Zuma from South Africa, you have Xi Jinping from China, you have Prime Minister Modi from India; Dilma Rousseff, I guess, is still essentially a Brazilian Slav, being of Bulgarian background, but certainly representing Latin America; and then of course you had other people invited at that BRICS Summit, so you had people like the Turkish representation and others there. That looks a bit more like a true global community of nations rather than the G7. So you see the impact of that "soft power," of does this grouping perhaps better speak for the rising power? So these ideas have resonance.

The idea that countries have distinct national cultures that have to be protected. That's a reason why you had Shinzo Abe attending the games in Sochi in 2014, when almost every other Western leader decided not to attend the Olympic Games, and others.

This idea of national distinctiveness resonates. Putin is seen as a spokesman for this, in that he in a way draws the ire of Western leaders, and so he in a way, if we can draw the comparison, perhaps is the Donald Trump of the world. He speaks and kind of stands up to this prevailing notion of what the West defines as proper international behavior and says: "Nope. I will stand for Russian interests and I will stand for others who want to articulate what their national interests are."

So was it a surprise that Netanyahu was the first person to call Putin to congratulate him on his reelection as the Russian president? Because there is that resonance there, of "Well, you need to have leaders who are willing to speak out and defend what they see as their national interests."

The Russians have been articulating these themes of plurality and Western standards are not universal, and that the West has to accept that if you are going to have international cooperation there has to be a give and take on terms of values and the like. So I think that this does have resonance.

And it's something that goes beyond just Russia itself. I think as you have these rising powers, they have looked to the Russians to provide an intellectual framework for justifying why you should have these alternate institutions, why the BRICS and the Shanghai grouping and these other institutions don't have to follow or accept the rules that have been blazoned out by the United States and Western Europe, and that you can have an alternate vision of world order and it does not require a seal of approval from London or Washington or Berlin or Paris in order to have legitimacy and to have saliency.

With that, why don't I pause and we'll go into questions.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Thank you all. It's really fascinating, from the conceptual moral framework as it were, through the role of church and state, and then finally with Nick the kind of practical ramifications that emanate outside Russia. It has been an incredibly rich half-hour.


QUESTION: Thank you. James Starkman.

I'll address my question to Nadia Kizenko. What was the impetus behind the repression that all organized religion in Russia experienced during the Stalinist years and immediate post-Stalinist years? What caused that suppression of a potential rival political power embedded in the Church to moderate to the point where today they are on parallel tracks?

NADIA KIZENKO: Marxism-Leninism.

To be quite serious, in the years —I actually would not limit it to Stalin—in the years before Stalin, even at the end of the 1920s, the Bolshevik government at first thought that religion would wither away; and then, when they realized that it had not, went about persecuting religion overall.

But it's fair to say that the Orthodox Church was singled out for persecution precisely because it had been linked to the czars and to legitimizing the power of the czars.

A survey that was not made public for years was conducted in 1937. My own family members and other people that I knew really wrestled with answering one of the questions on this census, which is "Are you a believer?" The results were so bad, from the point of view of Stalin and the Soviet Union, that the survey was suppressed under communism, because it turned out that more than 50 percent of the population in the Soviet Union still consisted of religious believers. So I think that the explanation, on the one hand, is relatively simple: it's a competing ideology. If you are fighting for people's hearts and minds, you can't have something else that might champion their allegiance.

But actually, what I think is quite interesting is that during the Second World War, as you know, Stalin chose to enlist the Orthodox Church in his support. Actually, the last years of Stalin were not the worst years for the Orthodox Church. Khrushchev was actually worse than the last years of Stalin. So it's not always immediately obvious which ruler is saying what and doing what when.

But I think the answer really lies in Marxist ideology as applied to the Soviet Union specifically.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Let me weigh in, if I may. Nadia, you referred to Aleksandr Dugin. The Council has just actually been instrumental in issuing a book called Eurasianism and the European Far Right. It began with a look at Dugin's vision of Eurasianism, the new Eurasianism. I think it's fair to say that this is seen as an antidote to Atlanticism, which is essentially the United States, United Kingdom, and those who follow.

I guess a two-part question. First of all, are Eurasianism and Russkiy Mir compatible? Are they in some sort of a harness with each other? Is it a sort of offshoot? How do you see the two concepts?

The second thing is Dugin, I think, was let go from Moscow State University, I understand, but he has some traction throughout Europe, in Western Europe. We followed his trail into the Front National in France and elsewhere. So what's the situation with Dugin and new Eurasianism at this point?

NADIA KIZENKO: Dugin, like many other neo-Eurasianists and Orthodox communists and so on, even though they invoke Orthodox Christianity, are actually not compatible with it.

What does Russkiy Mir, as articulated by Patriarch Kirill, actually say? It says that the Slavic nations of present-day Russia, present-day Ukraine, and present-day Belarus share a common baptism, that when Grand Prince Vladimir was baptized into Orthodox Christianity there was no Russian Federation, there was no Ukraine, there was no Belarus; there was one Slavic entity ruled from Kiev and all three successor states can claim cultural and spiritual continuity with that moment. That's a very specifically Christian reading of Russkiy Mir.

Whereas what Dugin is saying is that Orthodoxy has more in common with Islam than it does with Catholicism—Really? Really? In other words, he's using Orthodoxy to justify the anti-Atlanticist thing, and insofar as Western Christianity is part of the Western world, therefore, from Dugin's point of view, they don't have that much in common.

This is not articulated by any Russian hierarch that I know of. I will limit myself to that.

NICOLAI PETRO: I would say that the Eurasian debate has a pedigree in the Russian immigration. It had a certain popularity, and then it lost its popularity, because—I think there's a consensus among contemporary historians on this—it really doesn't have that consonance with the traditional Christian Europe-oriented view that Russian culture has of itself.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: A couple of points in a different direction but which tie back to your question, David.

That is, you talked a bit about the links with the new right. Less now for Dugin but just overall, what has been fascinating to see has been the cultivation by the Russian state and by Russian entities of what you might see as traditionalist movements all throughout Europe, and this idea that there is a—and this is where it goes against Dugin's view—there is this idea that yes, there is a traditional Christian identity shared throughout Europe that's under threat from Western secularism, that the Western elites have given up on their religious and moral heritage and now it's under threat, so you have to work together. You see how that resonates particularly in a number of Catholic countries, in the sense of "Hey, we can work with the Russians on this, even though we may not be of the same church."

To some extent, with the new left, this idea of again, American hegemony coming in to erode our distinctiveness and kind of impose things on us. So the idea that Russia has to be a bulwark in that.

Where the Eurasian point comes in is interesting, because this also is what allows a number of these movements to say, "We don't need to worry about a Russian threat to the rest of Europe," that Russia kind of stops—obviously it doesn't work as well if you're Ukrainian or in the Baltic States—but the idea that Eurasia is Russia's zone and it stops at the Vistula, and the Russians really aren't going to be interested in moving westward. Let the Russians organize the Eurasian space to the east, and then they can bring that into partnership with a rejuvenated Europe which has kind of purged itself of its ties through the Atlantic to the United States.

Until recently, you had these linkages between, certainly, right-wing movements in Germany and in Russia about the traditional Russian-German partnership, of Germany kind of runs Europe or leads Europe and Russia kind of leads the Eurasian space, then they cooperate together and they push out—the Brits leave because they're going to be their own island anyway, and the United States should stay out of this. Then you kind of have those linkages.

So again, you see these ideas bubbling up. But again, the Russian ability to harness some of these things that we in the United States weren't as really focused on—nationalism, national distinctiveness, traditionalism—and then with that an anti-Americanism that was always present in the hard right and in the hard left in Europe now coming together, finding its voice and finding an articulation of those things.

Again, you mentioned Le Pen. Le Pen's party is very clearly saying, "Hey, France shouldn't have been involved in the Ukraine issue. This is a Russkiy Mir. This is kind of an internal fight between Russia and Ukraine. France shouldn't be involved."

It's not accidental that the National Front is very strong in the shipyards where the Mistral was being built. Now that that contract is severed, I'm sure that will be something that will show up—"Great job, President Hollande, you just got rid of a major shipbuilding deal and we'll be out of work." Maybe we'll see what happens, if that helps fuel the National Front's chances in the next elections in France.

DAVID SPEEDIE: We're certainly heading in some very interesting directions.

QUESTION: Good evening. It's always a great pleasure to be here at the Carnegie Council. It's a very rich discussion.

My question mostly will be in regards to the impact of secularism nowadays in the modern Russia, after 1991. The topic is about the matter of church and state. We know that ever since the USSR installed communism under Vladimir Ulyanov [Lenin], from 1917 to 1991, that literally communism had wiped out the religious idioms of the Russian Federation.

Does secularism really still exist today in Russia, knowing that after so many years of communist power, plus the modernity of today's society, where religion has pretty much abated compared to the time of the Romanovs? Does this topic of church and state still really concretely exist nowadays compared to the Romanovs' era?

NADIA KIZENKO: The reason that that is such an incredibly interesting question is that I actually went to a conference in Moscow devoted to the issue of secularism in the Soviet Union and the attempt to create a secular society.

One of the things that came out of that conference is that while the Soviet Union existed everyone talked about the persecution of religion and the attempt to stamp out religion. But at the very end did the Russian Federation, Russia, end up in the same place that it would have ended up, even if communism had not happened, given what happened in European countries?

If you compare piety, if you compare religious observance, in France; if you compare religious observance in rural Germany in 1914 compared to religious observance in France and Spain now, the really staggering thing is that, whether you want to use metrics like church attendance, whether you want to use metrics like baptism, it's actually quite striking to ask oneself the question: All that effort to wipe out religion, and for what, to end up in the same place that Europe ended up without actually having to do this?

But I think a more interesting question would be to compare Russia now to, let's say, Romania, which is to say to another historically Orthodox country, but which was communist for a shorter span of time and did not go through the worst bit of religious persecution that Russia and Ukraine and Belarus went through in the 1930s. So that in a place like Romania, for example, which, although it was communist, was communist for far shorter, their religious participation is much higher than it is in, let's say, Russia.

So in that sense you actually can say that yes, all of that communist destruction of the village and that extra 30 years of communism really was quite devastating. It's not to say that secularism has triumphed, but . . .

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: What I think is interesting about the Russian case throughout—well, Georgia I think is a separate example because of the different relationship of the Georgian Church to society there—but in Russia and to an extent in Ukraine, except maybe in West Ukraine, which, for the same reasons, was communist less than the rest, is today in contemporary Russia there is a kind of odd mix of religiosity and secularism, which is that the Orthodox Church is the church that people don't go to. In other words, they're not not Orthodox or they're not actively seeking another religion; they're just not particularly active in day-to-day Orthodoxy.

But they claim it as an identity. They want to see churches built, they want to see this kind of reference to Orthodox identity, but then they don't want much interference in how they run their day-to-day lives. You can see that with yes, there's a fasting menu when it's a fast day that few people will have. But what people don't want is a return to where, "Yeah, it's a Friday, but I'm still going to have my sausage today and don't tell me that the Church tells me not to eat it today," or "Yes, you can have someone on TV reminding me that today's a fast day and that I shouldn't eat meat, but I'm still going to have the freedom to go out and have my sausage or steak or things even though it's against the Church calendar." That's what I find interesting.

Why it ties back to this political issue is that you have people who overall are not particularly churchgoers. The strength of the Orthodox Church in Russia is a small group of very committed members, 2-to-3 percent of the population, that are really devout and are the ones who are the backbone of the social work and of other things, and then a larger majority of people that want Orthodoxy there but are somehow disconnected from it in a day-to-day sense, but still see that as a marker of identity, that they don't want to become something else; they don't want to be Protestant or Catholic or embrace another religion, but they just don't want to necessarily be particularly devout.

I think it's similar to not only your point about Romania, but you can see that trend in Greece, where the Greek Orthodox Church is the church the majority of Greeks just don't go to, but they don't go anywhere else.

NADIA KIZENKO: But at the same time in Greece they wanted to keep it on their identity cards.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: On the identity cards, right. "The only time I darken a church door is when I was baptized, when I married, and when I'm going to be buried, but don't take 'Orthodox' off line 5 on my identity card."

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I sometimes wonder if we harken back to some sort of romantic era when we were all religious and reading the Acts of the Apostles. Nobody was very religious at that time, but we were trying—at least Paul was trying—to get people into the church and appealing to all sorts of criteria, trying to distinguish between what was truly of the spirit and what was not of the spirit. But I think there just isn't this period of time when we were always so devout, when the majority was always so devout.

NADIA KIZENKO: I'm not talking about the devout majority. I'm talking about things like, for example, in France in the early 1960s sociologists and political scientists did track how any given district would be likely to vote given what proportion of the population went to Easter Communion. That's something measurable, which was to say "this proportion goes to Communion on Easter Day and therefore the population is more likely to vote in this way." Things like that actually are measurable, I think.

NICOLAI PETRO: But to me that speaks more to the social identity and national identity than to the religiosity criterion, which is the one that we're saying is low by comparative standards. I wonder how low it is by comparative historical standards.

One other thing about Russian "soft power"—and this question brought it up—is to my mind the metaphor of church-state relations. We do have two different paradigms. We have a paradigm in which in the West the separation is key, and some people very strongly make the argument that it is indeed key to democracy, key to the nature of democracy, to have this separation. And there is, I think, an Orthodox paradigm that argues that separation, a strict sort of separation, is actually the wrong paradigm.

Wherein might Russia's "soft power" lie? I was struck by Nick's characterization. It's telling. You come from an active group of people involved in national security decisions, and they clearly don't see what this source of Russian "soft power" could ever be.

I was thinking about it as we were discussing. It seems like it could be boiled down to something as simple as this: Russia is telling other nations in the world, "It's okay to be different. It's okay not to follow the Western model."

One of the defining characteristics of the Western model that the West clings to, but that Russia historically and theologically seems to reject, is this idea of separation of church and state. So to the extent that it is retained, Russia makes the case that its "soft power" can be attractive—as an attraction not specifically to Orthodoxy, unfortunately for the Russian Orthodox Church, but for this notion of diversity in the world.

QUESTION: I ask this with a little trepidation. It's a little complicated. But speculating, if a Western person of some authority could say, "Ah yes, we have conflated some things about French, British, and U.S. culture with liberalism; liberalism is actually a structure of some relatively fundamental concepts," you in fact appeal to some of those. Diversity among nations—it may be among nations rather than within, but it's diversity and fair play, if you will.

The best way to put this at this stage is: Is there room for that kind of dialogue, speaking of course speculatively?

NICOLAI PETRO: What would come out?

QUESTIONER: What kinds of things would then not be separable from things that are identified as Western? What kinds of things could we not reconcile? Would it then—and I haven't had a chance to connect the dots all the way through—but is there a chance that it just ends up as saying, "Oh no, it's a political ploy and it's a cover by the West, these concepts, to exploit"?

I hope I'm getting the spirit of what I'm trying to get here. But is there room and is there a genuine space where there could be something, or would it degenerate quickly to something like a sham?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think it's a great question. I think you're seeing it less with Russia because the security relationship overshadows it. But you're seeing the United States struggle with what's happening in places like Turkey and India, where it's very clear that you have political elites that are committed to liberal (small L) values but are also very clearly interested in diverging—again, not getting the approval of the West.

So Modi's over-religiosity—you saw how the White House, when he visited here, had real difficulty. The prime minister comes and says, "I'm fasting today because I have a particular devotion to this goddess and it's her day." And so at the state dinner it's like, "But we have this great dinner for you and here's your empty plate." But because that didn't fit the paradigm, which is, "Well, that should be kept quiet," just dealing with the expressions of religiosity and of some of the limits that that may bring.

I mean we see this with our rocky experiment when you had Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, the experiment there, which was the spokesmen were always saying, "We certainly believe there are these different paths to democracy, but if you deviate from the American one we don't like that." We're struggling with it.

So I think you're asking is there a liberal framework which can be independent of the cultures of the West. I think the jury is out. I also think institutionally we have some difficulty expressing that.

Our model is still the idea of reconstruction. And even with Japan, with Abe, I think we see these tensions, because Abe is one of the first Japanese leaders to say, "I want to move beyond the World War II era. America, we constructed Japan on this model, and now I want to take it beyond." We see those tensions there.

NADIA KIZENKO: I will say only that there is a liberal tradition within both Russian Orthodoxy and within Russian political life. It's not the dominant note now. And specifically, the Western liberal version that you described is not dominant now. It seemed to be for part of the 1990s, and perhaps at a suitable time it might be there ready to be tapped upon again. But this does not appear to be its reigning moment.

NICOLAI PETRO: I certainly agree with that. I think we would do very well in the West to accept more of that tradition, to be more familiar with it, so that we can incorporate it into a truly broader European canon of liberalism, because Russia belongs there.

QUESTION: Hi. Milena Tercheva, until recently at the Russian Institute for Democracy and Cooperation.

I have a question for Nadia. How do you really judge the effect of the sort of harmonious church-state policy in Russia on the Church itself? There are a couple of polls that people don't have such positive perceptions of the Church. But really, from what I've seen of the latest polls, there are some other polls that indicate that the perceptions within the public have changed, that their attitudes tend to be very much in tune with what you might want to call the propaganda of the state, that the highest priorities in Russian society are now for women, and for men too, to start families, for men to enlist in the army, and that really plays into the hands of that church-state harmonious relationship that is being pushed within Russia. I just wanted to know how exactly you judge the new relationship as not favorable to the Church.

And another to Mr. Gvosdev. Please, for the love of the Orthodox God, don't insult Vladimir Putin's intellect by comparing him to Trump. [Laughter] Thank you.


I just wanted to stress that the poll that I cited was not about the Orthodox Church. It was about how people felt about religion in general.

Actually, one of the biggest concerns among a lot of Russians is the idea that young people might run away and join ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], for example. In other words, when they think of religion in this poll, it's not "what do you think of the Russian Orthodox Church?" It's: "Do you think in general religion is a source for harm or good in society?" So one should not assume that when they hear the word "religion" they automatically think—

QUESTIONER: It's a separate issue.

NADIA KIZENKO: Yes, exactly. In other words, one should bear that in mind. So I'm glad for this opportunity to clarify that.

As regards your real question, though, I think you are right, in the sense that there is resonance among large parts of the Russian population for any number of aspects along these lines—the support to mothers, for example, etc. But nevertheless, it still seems to me, though, that one shouldn't dismiss educated society as opposed to—at least one shouldn't dismiss people who define themselves as educated society or the intelligentsia—versus the population writ large.

I think it is true that within the Russian intelligentsia, the acting together of church and state has not been to the benefit of the Russian Orthodox Church. Among these people there actually is nostalgia for the 1990s—not for what was happening in Russia in general, not for the collapsing economy, not for the prices, not for the economic crash, but for the very different role that the Orthodox Church seemed to be playing at the time with people like Father Alexander Men before; with the idea that we're not just about real estate, we're about pastoral service; the existence of many lay brotherhoods that disappeared—that sort of thing.

But point taken. There is society broadly speaking and then the group that defines itself as critical. So yes.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I want to thank you, the audience, first of all, for wonderful questions, which we always have here, but also for being part of our curtain-raiser on the new season of programs here at the Carnegie Council.

As far as the panel is concerned, I just want to say that we knew going in this was an ambitious reach for us into new territory, but something that was entirely consistent with the Council's focus on ethics, on values, and so on and so forth. I think what you've done in a really masterful way has helped us understand that engaging Russia and understanding Russia is not just through the lens of the Ukraine conflict, not just through military operations in the Black Sea or Kaliningrad or wherever, but also through the lens of values. For that we owe you a great vote of thanks.

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