“Look son, bein’ a good shot and bein’ quick with a pistol, that don’t do no harm, but it don’t mean much next to being cool-headed. A man who’ll keep his head, and not get rattled under fire, like as not he’ll kill ya.”
–Gene Hackman as William “Little Bill” Daggett, Unforgiven
Russia’s Vladimir Putin is getting rattled under fire. He can’t hit the side of a barn any more, and his quick-draw antics are wearing thin. As a last resort, Putin has turned to God and asked Him for a Holy Russian Empire to protect Putin from reality. What’s the Russian for “burka”?
Putin has seen a stunning series of setbacks in recent weeks. First there was a horrifyingly successful terrorist attack on Domodedovo, one of Russia’s most important airports in the center of its capital city, and then he was openly contradicted by the country’s so-called president when he claimed the crime had been solved.
It was a devastating below, because Putin’s primary claim to fame was that he had “pacified” Russia’s roiling and separatist Caucasus region. Instead, the world saw how Putin’s crazed efforts to assassinate leaders in the region have left the rebels headless, furious, and capable of — in Putin’s words — “senseless cruelty.” It’s Russia, though, that has been repeatedly convicted of senseless, state-sponsored cruelty in the Caucasus by the European Court of Human Rights. In fact, that court is literally overflowing with such claims against the Putin regime.
Then the bad news just kept coming.
Yet another key Russian space satellite tumbled out of orbit.
Putin was caught red-handed constructing an obscenely enormous personal residence even as a fellow dictator came under fire in Egypt for similar practices. Putin started reminding the world very much of Saddam Hussein.
Then there was Beautygate, parts I and II. First Putin was openly abandoned by one of the country’s most famous prima ballerinas — in favor of his most hated rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And then, in the wake of the airport atrocity, he was exposed by Naomi Campbell, of all people, as a prurient, prepubescent schoolboy more interested in barely legal boobies than terrorist booby traps.
Where else to turn but to God?
It was hardly surprising when Putin announced Russian politics is now wide open for the Russian Orthodox Church, his leading cheerleader. But that didn’t make it any less terrifying.
In a breathtaking one-two punch, the Kremlin announced that from now on Orthodox bigwigs will receive the same type of state-sponsored security as Kremlin bigshots get, and the Orthodox Church answered by freeing priests to enter politics. The Kremlin applauded the decision.
For its first political act, the Orthodox Church called for a national dress code, little different from that imposed in places like Saudi Arabia. The priest who led the charge was stunningly Stalin-like in his pronouncement: “You think that is a utopia? It is not. People will soon have to get used to it.” One was reminded of the stunning hubris of Kirill, the Russian pope, when he asserted Haiti got what it deserved during its horrific earthquake because it was an immoral land.
The Church is nervous. It knows its needs some totalitarian juice to stop its slide into obscurity among the Russian people. Less than two percent of Russians attended Russian Christmas church services this year, and so the Church has been aggressively moving to emulate the Putin regime with its own “power vertical” so that it can fill its pews regardless of the worshippers’ desires.
International observers have documented the increasing crackdown on religions which don’t have the Russian Orthodox seal of approval, and Kirill has openly castigated Muslims. What’s more, he tells the Kremlin that because Russia is a “special country” it doesn’t have to pay attention when convicted of human rights atrocities against Muslims in the Caucasus. A new law spurred on by the Church gives the government the power to sanction religious demonstrations that lack government approval.
What will the Holy Russian Empire be like? It will be like Stalin’s Russia, but replacing the ideology of Communism with the ideology of Orthodox religious fervor. Instead of having Western democracy as its primary enemy, the Holy Russian Empire will face off more immediately with Islam, a religion that is rapidly coming to dominate Russian society as Slavs, with an anemic birth rate, die off.
But that won’t mean Orthodox Russia will hate the West any less. There is a perfect symbiosis between the Church and the Kremlin in desiring to push all Western influence out of Russia, the better to maintain power and influence under the status quo. The Church will bless Putin’s personal palaces, and Putin will bless the Church as it rounds up the usual suspects, imposes a national dress code, and strong-arms folks in to the pews on Sunday.
And it won’t mean Orthodox Russia will last any longer than the USSR. Undermined by pandemic corruption, self-deception, and blind xenophobia, this new iteration of Russia will not reform or adapt any better than its Soviet ancestor and, just as surely, will collapse before our eyes.