Why Russia Can’t Be America’s Ally: What Putin Doesn’t Want You to Know About Moscow’s Persecution of Christians and Covert Support for Radical Islamists
Recently within the American conservative and Christian zeitgeists I have noticed a growing positive view of Vladimir Putin and desire for a U.S.-Russia Christian military alliance against Islamic terrorism. As both a conservative Christian American and a policy specialist on Russia and Eastern Europe, this is a perilous line of thinking. The growing trend among conservatives to support Putin’s Russia is problematic because Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) engage in activities that run directly contrary to U.S. national security objectives, values of Western civilization writ large, and teaching of Christian scripture.
Perceptions that Russia is a defender of Christendom in an increasingly secular world are not based in reality. Any discussion concerning the relationship between Christianity and Russia cannot fail to take into consideration the Russian Orthodox Church, which dominates practically all aspects of Christianity in Russia. It is well known among Sovietologists that the ROC historically has been used by the Kremlin and serves as an extension of the Russian state and its intelligence services—it is no coincidence that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is a decorated KGB agent. (This issue warrants a paper on its own, and I will write more on this topic later.) Because of this, Christians in Russia who refuse to be de facto subjugated to the Kremlin vis-à-vis communion with the ROC suffer government persecution.
There is little to no religious liberty in Putin’s Russia, and I’m not referring to interfaith pluralism; Russia is rife with examples of non-Christian religious groups suffering from state persecution. Even within Christendom in Russia, Christians who do not completely recognize the authority of the Kremlin’s Moscow Patriciate are persecuted. There are several public examples of how the Russian State uses its power to defend the Russian Orthodox Church’s (and the Kremlin’s) monopoly on faith.
Protestant missionaries usually suffer under Russian law and government authorities. Take for example the unfortunate case of Donald Ossewaarde, an American Baptist Missionary in Russia who, for hosting a Bible study in his home in violation of Russia’s Yarovaya Law, was arrested, fined 40,000 rubles, intimidated by Russian authorities, and forced to end his ministry. Also citing the Yarovaya Law, a Russian court ordered the destruction of 40 Bibles distributed by the Salvation Army that were not properly registered with the state. Moscow’s suppression is not strictly confined to Russia, either, as we have photographic evidence depicting the injuries inflicted upon Ukrainian evangelical pastor Aleksandr Khomchenko when Kremlin operatives in eastern Ukraine tortured him to convert to Russian Orthodoxy.
Even within Eastern Orthodoxy, Orthodox Christians who don’t adhere specifically to the ROC are persecuted. A Russian court ordered for the only Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Russia to be demolished at the expense of the Ukrainian diocese, and ROC clergy condone the Kremlin’s war in eastern Ukraine as a type of “orthodox jihad” against Ukrainian Orthodox apostates who do not recognize the one true and “rightful” Eastern Orthodox patriarchate—the Moscow Patriarchate.
Despite being guilty of persecuting Christians, the Kremlin and ROC present themselves internationally as defenders of persecuted Christians in a two-faced manner. The behavior of Russia’s government and state church to persecute and commit violence against Christians should be intolerable and eye-opening. As keepers of our brothers and sisters in Christ, American Christians owe it to be vigilant observers and not fall for Moscow’s honeycomb narratives manufactured with decades of Soviet disinformation experience specifically designed to resonate with foreign audiences.
In addition to persecuting Christians, Russia projects power abroad to subvert Western audiences and support anti-Western and Islamic forces to the detriment of Western values and U.S. national security objectives. Just as Moscow supports “Christian” actors who serve Kremlin interests, Moscow supports Islamic actors who serve Kremlin interests. In fact, Putin stated that the Russian Orthodox Church has “much in common with Islam,” that “Islam is one of the traditional religions of Russia and deserves the support of the [Russian] government,” and that Russia will always be “a reliable ally” to the “Islamic world.” Perhaps Putin’s endorsement of Islam helps explain why the Kremlin has been supportive of a litany of radical Islamic regimes and tyrants.
Moscow does not deserve a free pass for its support of Islamic regimes and terrorists. Since the early 1990s, the Russian government has nurtured Iran’s nuclear program through the provision of Russian nuclear experts and technical information to Tehran. More recently Putin has supported Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the Russian military, along with Iran, openly and violently supports Islamic dictator Bashar al-Assad’s bloody regime in Syria. To boot, there is growing evidence of Russia’s covert support and recruitment for ISIS and the Taliban. Another inconvenient fact for the spurious Kremlin narrative that “Putin is taking the fight to ISIS” is that many ISIS leaders are Saddam’s former regime elements who were trained by the KGB, which, again, is far from coincidental. Western observers also should know that Putin enjoys a friendly relationship with Islamic strongman Razman Kadyrov, whom Putin has granted the liberty to run Chechnya as a lawless Islamic fiefdom. Horrifyingly, Kadyrov recently opened a concentration camp for homosexuals for “the final solution of gay issue.” Putin, unsurprisingly, turns a blind eye to Kadryov’s barbarism per their arrangement.
In light of this information, it is clear that Kremlin narratives that Russia is a commonsense ally against Islamic extremism and terrorism are not based in any objective reality. If anything this highlights Moscow’s willingness to collude with anybody who helps the Kremlin achieve its foreign policy objectives of reasserting Russia as a global superpower, sowing discord among Western nations, breaking NATO and the European Union, and undermining the international post-WWII world order.
Contrary to what the Kremlin would like American Christians to believe, Russia is not waging war against ISIS, is no defender of Christianity, and is not a commonsense ally against Islamic terrorism. In reality, Russia supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Hezbollah, the Assad regime, ISIS, and a long list of unsavory Islamic forces that are sworn adversaries of the United States and her values. Furthermore, Putin’s Russia persecutes Christians who do not observe the Russian Orthodox Church’s perverted faith, which has been coopted by Russian intelligence services. Needless to say, it is impossible to form a counterterrorism military alliance, let alone a Christian alliance, with Russia when Russia directly supports Islamic terrorists and oppresses Christians.
Until Moscow cleans up its act and its agenda is not defined by anti-Western motives, Moscow does not deserve America’s favorable consideration for any type of broad military alliance. If there is to be any United States cooperation with Russia, it should be done carefully and be manifest in short-term partnerships under limited circumstances to support mutual objectives, such as cooperation in science in the ISS and arctic. Should the U.S. and Russia find more common ground for reasonable cooperation, then the U.S. should take full advantage. Until then, current U.S.-Russia relations make cooperation on bigger issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and antiterrorism untenable.
For those who argue the merits of cooperating with Russia to support the Assad regime, because Assad protects Christians in Syria, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Michael Doran had an astute rebuttal during a Providence and Hudson co-hosted event:
The Assad regime is not a benign element in the Middle East… I see estimates that say 500,000 people [have been] killed in the war—most of those people killed are killed by the Assad Regime, the Russians, and the Iranians…so it’s hard for me to look at the Russian-Iranian-Assad complex as good for humanity in any way… The fact that there’s a handful of Jews in Tehran that are not being murdered doesn’t make me feel good about what the Iranians are doing in the wider Middle East…to say that some Christians, out of no other choice…but to bend to the will of the Assad Regime, means that somehow we should look with favor upon it is very narrow-minded [and] very short-sighted.
To further illustrate his point, Doran noted how the Kremlin-Assad-Tehran alliance is responsible for the Syrian Civil War, which is the source of hundreds of thousands of refugees that are at the root cause of Europe’s refugee crisis.
Unfortunately, Russia’s use of disinformation has resulted with Moscow winning undeserved favorability with conservatives, Christians, and other target demographics in the West. If you truly care about Western civilization and Christendom you must heed this warning: Do not fall for Russian disinformation. President Putin and Patriarch Kirill, both career KGB agents, have professionally been in the business of covertly influencing foreigners for Kremlin strategic interests for decades. Despite Moscow’s attempts to market itself abroad as an enemy of radical Islam and a protector of Christianity, Moscow is guilty of doing the exact opposite, expecting Americans to be too foolish to notice. These are irreconcilable differences that make American cooperation with Moscow a fool’s errand. Moscow’s duplicitous calls for cooperation are but masked attempts to get the United States to allow Russia to pursue its anti-Western agenda with impunity under the pretense of “flexibility” for strategic cooperation.
This Kremlin narrative is smoke and mirrors. Do not allow yourself to be fooled into supporting a regime who supports our enemies and whose values are not the same as ours. Russia talks strongly about terrorism and protecting Christianity, but its actions affirm the exact opposite. When one’s actions disingenuously mismatch one’s words, one is guilty of deception. I would not expect any less from President Putin and Patriarch Kirill, who have continued the USSR’s legacy of anti-Western subversion, anti-Christian oppression, and political violence into the 21st century. Such always have been the ways of Moscow.
George Barros is a Washington-based specialist on Ukraine and Russia who previously worked as a foreign policy staffer for a former member of Congress who served on the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. You can find him on twitter at @curiousgeorgie_
Photo Credit: Army Gen. Nikolai Makarov, right, chief of Russia’s Armed Forces General Staff, welcomes Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Moscow on June 26, 2009. Mullen was on a three-day trip to Russia to meet with defense counterparts and tour the Russian military academy. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley.
 Russia’s controversial Yarovaya Law, which has attracted well-deserved Western criticism, requires all churches in Russia to be registered with the Russian government, fully bans missionary activities in “non-religious settings,” prohibits the public dissemination of religious materials (Bibles and pamphlets), and criminalizes door-knocking evangelization- all under pretenses of “anti-extremism” and “anti-terrorism” precautions.