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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
September 10, 2015

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Putin Opening ‘Second’ and Different ‘Front’ against the West in Syria, Felshtinsky Says

Staunton, September 10, 2015

With the dispatch of Russian troops to Syria, Vladimir Putin has opened ‘a second front’ against the West, one that is very different in its methods and intentions than the first one in Ukraine that he continues to pursue, according to Russian-American historian Yury Felshtinsky.

In Ukraine, Putin has pursued “a ‘hybrid’ battle only in the sense that he has been pursuing a double goals: first, to seize Ukraine and start the restoration of ‘a Soviet Union’ or ‘a Russian Empire’ … and second, to show the entire world that Russia has the right to territorial conquests … beyond the current Russian borders)."

In Syria, on the other hand, Felshtinsky continues, Russia’s actions are not “’hybrid’” in any sense. Rather, they are “a continuation of the old Soviet policy which on the whole never changed” and that may be better described as “schizophrenic,” that is, one that involved as in the case of Israel supporting one country and then selling arms to that country’s enemies.

“Russian policy toward Syria and Russian military actions in Syria … serve [those] same goals,” he argues. “It is important to Putin to show Europe and the US that Russia has the right to use its forces far beyond its borders if the interests of the state require this.” Putin thus considers that he is “acting ‘exactly the same’ as the US has in Iraq.
By sending troops to Syria, “Putin wants to show the world” that Russia has “parity” relations with the US. At his upcoming speech at the United Nations, Felshtinsky suggests, the Russian leader’s central message is thus going to be that “Russia is permitted to do what the US is permitted to do.”

In that speech, the Russian-American analyst says, “Putin will declare to the entire world that the rules of the game have changed and that Russia must be taken into account because it has an army and nuclear weapon and intends to use in the resolution of its foreign policy tasks both the first and the second.”

The Russian army, “the first foreign policy instrument,” has been used for some time: in Chechnya, in Transdnistria, in Georgia, in Ukraine and now in Syria. The second, nuclear weapons, “remains in reserve.” Putin and his entourage will constantly remind the world of what could happen “if they push a rat into a corner.’”

All this means, the analyst says, that “the entire world now is concerned with yet another delicate mission: how to get the rat out of the corner in which he has gone of his own volition and does not want to leave although all the doors are open.”

“The optimists hope that Putin will publicly declare at the UN about his coming out of the corner,” Felshtinsky says, adding that he personally is not one of them and does not expect anything good.”

The reason is simple: “there are already consequences from the conduct of the military campaign in Syria, and they are very serious” because “the entire world considers these consequences catastrophic but Putin views them as positive.”

In the course of a very brief time, “Russia has been transformed from a peaceful partner into a militant opponent,” whose economy is no longer linked to the work market system but is suffering because of the falling prices for oil.

“Putin,” Felshtinsky argues, “consider this as the price for a new policy of Russia. Having devalued the ruble, he has made all the citizens of the Russian Federation into fellow participants of his foreign policy operations,” even though they have little or no influence on his decisions and aren’t about going into the square to “demand the overthrow of the Putin regime.”

-- Paul Goble

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Even Russian Orthodox Priests of the Moscow Patriarchate are Emigrating

Staunton, September 10, 2015

Most of those leaving Russia to live permanently abroad are scholars or entrepreneurs, but among this flow now are some Russians typically view as committed to the regime’s new patriotism. Their reasons constitute a searing indictment of both the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate.

In a report on this perhaps for most Russians and others unexpected phenomenon, the news agency publishes interviews by Vasily Chernov with three Russian Orthodox priests who decided they could no longer live under the conditions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia or of Patriarch Kirill’s church.

Chernov’s first interview was with Father Andrey Markov, who became an Orthodox priest in 1992 but who subsequently emigrated to the United States where he now lives. The two main reasons were his disappointment in what had appeared the spiritual possibilities of the early 1990s and the unwillingness of the clerical hierarchy or his parish to help him with his son who suffers from Down’s syndrome.

“I came to understand,” Father Andrey says, that “the Russian Orthodox Church did not need me as I am. What it needed were triumphalists or people who invented triumphs. I wanted to save [my son], and I was told that in the US there are effective programs for helping people with Down’s syndrome. When I came to the US, I became convinced that this is the truth.”

The Orthodox priest notes that Father Pavel Adelgeym organized in his church a home for children with mental problems,” but when the church hierarchy took this congregation away from Father Pavel because of his public condemnation of social problems, the hierarchy immediately closed it down.

Father Andrey says that despite the fact that all his close friends now are in America, he dreams of “living to that moment when in our church something will change and [he] will be able to return to Russia in order to serve God and people at home.” That will require a sea change in attitudes within the church and within Russian society.

Nevertheless, he says, he retains his hopes: “one cannot deceive either the people or oneself forever.”

Chernov’s second interview was with Father Grigory Ryazanov, a Moscow State University graduate who has made a good career in a regional center and even headed the missionary department of a Russian Orthodox bishopric. But despite that, he has filed his documents to emigrate.

He says he wants to leave because he was promoted by the previous bishop and does not get along with the new one, retaining his status only because he is a Moscow State graduate who was willing to come back to the provinces to work in the church rather than in private business.

Father Grigory says that many priests are thinking about leaving because that is “the only way to arrange life for themselves and their children, not just in the material sense but in the spiritual or church sense as well.” For anyone, there is a need for independence and a good milieu: as a priest in Russia now, both are hard to find.

An individual needs independence in order to make mistakes, take responsibility and correct them. But no less important is the milieu in which one lives. “It is said that whatever a priest is like, so too will be the congregation, but the reverse is true as well. If you for years serve among people who need nothing except rituals, you yourself begin to live that way.”

In Russia today, there are problems with regard to both of these, but the worst for priests is the lack of independence, Father Grigory says. Faced with a situation in which everything is decided for him, a priest may simply try to figure out how to form “a financial parachute” that will allow him a soft landing if the hierarchs change.

He says that he felt that he was at risk of going in that direction, something that would threaten his position as a Christian and his status as a human being. “I understood,” Father Grigory tells Chernov, “that sooner or later, I too would begin to degrade, and I did not want that fate for myself.”

The priest says that in his experience there are many Russian Orthodox priests who would like to emigrate if they had the chance. Such people are usually supportive of those who do, but other priests treat such actions as “treasonous” because they believe that the highest virtue is to bow down to those above one in the chain of command.

Father Grigory says that he hopes to continue to work as a priest. “The emigration which I plan,” he says, “is an emigration not from holiness but in the name of holiness. I want to have the chance to fulfill my calling as a priest to the best of my ability. This is the main cause,” and a comfortable life abroad without it would be for him “nothing.”

Chernov’s third interview was with Father Nikolay Karpenko who has emigrated but continues to serve in a church belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate in Germany. Father Nikolay at first didn’t want to talk with the journalist, but he finally agreed and told the story of his complicated life.

The child of non-believers, Father Nikolay became a priest in the early 1990s and felt the call to “serve God.” He trained as a priest and then was sent to a rural parish, one without any money and one in which he had a great deal of difficulty making ends meet for his wife and five children.
Despite that, he says, he did not have time to think. There was too much to do, “but when the parents of [his] wife, an ethnic German left for Germany, this thought came to [him] on its own. It was something entirely natural” because he wanted to maintain ties between his wife and children and her relatives.

His superiors in the Moscow Patriarchate had no interest in helping him maintain these connections. They told him that his lot was to serve “’Holy Rus.’” But it was obvious that if he did so, neither he nor his children would have any prospects for the future. Father Nikolay finally walked away from the church and fled to Germany.

His work in the church in Russia was boring, but after he came to Germany, he gained the opportunity to “serve without any monetary concerns, from the soul and from the heart. What a joy!”

He says he has helped other Russian Orthodox priests to resettle abroad and now sees his and their future only there. His children are Germans, and as for himself, he “remains a Russian priest, one of the many Russian priests who has no future in Russia.”

-- Paul Goble