The Church and the military

Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy. Religion, Politics, and Strategy
Forfatter: Dmitry Adamsky
Forlag: Stanford University Press (USA)
RUSSIA / Did the annexation of Crimea really come from religious circles? Membership of the Russian Orthodox Church promotes military careers.


After the Soviet Union's humiliating exit from Afghanistan in 1989, the church greatly helped to boost morale, and that is the process that has continued to this day. This is a dangerous trend in many ways.

In the social context, the renewed interest in the faith started as a grassroots phenomenon, but it has gradually spread to the top and is crucial in shaping the national identity. Putin himself is a religious person, and he deliberately uses the church to form alliances. This is very clearly seen in the military context, where the ecclesiastical influence has helped to give the nuclear armament higher status than the conventional armor. Today, there are priests in all major military maneuvers, and all weapons are equipped with an icon. There is also a tendency for membership of the Russian Orthodox Church to promote the career, just as the Communist Party Book was in the Soviet Union.

Sarov as an example

In 1927, the Russian Orthodox monastery at Sarov was closed. It was the year that the Bolsheviks systematically pursued the church seriously. In Sarov they executed all priests and monks. Over the years, the old monastery buildings gradually became a center for Soviet nuclear programs, and Sarov became a closed city. It was named Arzamas-16.

Putin himself is a religious person, and he deliberately uses the church to form alliances.

The site was the cream of the widely-branched Soviet weapons industry, and scientists and officers lived a privileged, albeit well-behaved life. That is why the shock may have hit even more severely in the isolated city as the Soviet Union began to crumble through the 1980s. Commodity shortages became the diet of the day, as everywhere else in the empire, and the depravity spread.

It was the time of perestroika, and many Soviet citizens linked hope to the church, which reappeared on the stage. It also happened in Arzamas-16. Atomic scientists had the same need for a stand in the chaotic times, and when the Soviet Union's final collapse came, that need just became even more acute. For the isolated community, not only was it deprived of its privileged status, but was also laid for hatred. Ordinary citizens regarded them as the epitome of the luxury class that had lived in luxury, and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster was a clear sign that the experts had not been worth the money.

Ecclesiastical public relations work

This is the introduction to a peculiar story that Dmitry Adamsky describes in his new book. He is a professor of political science at the Interdisciplinary University Center just outside Tel Aviv, but is of Russian descent and expert in the time following the fall of the Soviet Union. He delivers a frightening analysis of a sensible marriage between the church and the military with major implications for global security policy.

Kirill. Photo: Wikipedia

Moscow's patriarch, Kirill, who was simultaneously responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church's external relations, saw an opportunity in Arzamas-16. The old monastery buildings had been home to Serafim, one of the most important saints in Russia's history, so Kirill collaborated with nuclear scientists. They made sure the church building was rebuilt and ready for a grand re-inauguration of the tomb, and in return, Kirill talked the church case. He emphasized how throughout Russia's history there has been a close relationship between the church and the military, and by giving it all a strong national emphasis, the emotional message went straight into the people.

Putin And Kirill

Those are the words we hear from Putin today. He represents a Russia where the nuclear programs have regained their full reputation, and because the church has kept this development on a short leash, it has become a significant power factor and sits at the table where security policy decisions are made. Putin has repeatedly noted that control of the nuclear programs is equivalent to having scepter and riches in his hands, and in 2007 he told a group of Russian journalists that the traditional belief and atomic shield are two closely linked preconditions for national security.


As early as the early 00s, the church regained its extensive property, and the system of field priests and military chaplains was reinstated. The Russian Orthodox faith today has the status of a state church and is the only official official stamp, and every military commander must sign a declaration of allegiance to the priesthood.

Today there are priests with all major Russian military
maneuvers, and all weapons are equipped with an icon.

During his work, Dmitry Adamsky was met with some skepticism from Russian sources, and he also emphasizes that care must be taken to overestimate the influence of the church. However, that being said, one cannot run from Russia's distressed relationship with Ukraine as one of many illuminating examples to the contrary. An important partner in the Russian decisions was the state think tank RISI. The leader at the time was Leonid Resjetnikov, a former intelligence officer who had taken up the religion, and he surrounded himself with a group of clerical analysts. From here came the recommendation to conquer Ukrainian Crimea and annex the peninsula, and the main argument was that this is the birthplace of Holy Prince Vladimir, who in the 10th century became a Christian and was baptized on behalf of the entire Russian people.

Holy war

Photo: Our Military / Victor Tangermann

The problem is the same in Russian Middle Eastern policy. Of course, Russia has some strategic interests in that part of the world, but there is also a clear spiritual and messianic element involved. Putin does not deny that he wants to protect the Middle East's Christian minority, and in 2017, Patriarch Kirill labeled Russia's commitment to Syria as a holy war. However, he had to downplay that part of the rhetoric quickly so as not to become unfamiliar with the Muslim minorities in Russia itself. There have not yet been any examples of Russia playing with its atomic muscles, but the mere presence of an arsenal gives the country some security policy pondus. At that point, Adamsky's thorough analysis of the ecclesiastical and thus non-military influence becomes a worrying insight into the scenarios the future may bring.

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