Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Because of heart problems, I will be producing fewer and less regular Windows over the next four to six weeks.  I am sorry for the gap, but I will be preparing for a major procedure.  Paul Goble

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Russia’s Ten Most Orthodox, Ten Most Muslim and Ten Most Pagan Cities

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 6 – Sociologists at Moscow’s Finance University surveyed residents of all Russian cities with populations greater than 250,000 to determine the level of “penetration of Orthodox culture in the lives” of such people. But the survey also identified where Islam and paganism are having an impact.

            Specifically, the scholars asked Russian urban residents how much they were interested in or involved with religious practices.  That allowed them to rank the cities in terms of their interest in Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, and paganism (

                Using this measure, the scholars ranked the ten “most Orthodox” cities of the country. They are Lipetsk, Kursk, Saransk, Moscow, Belgorod, Voronezh, Tambov, Ryazan, Ulyanovsk and Kaluga.  The ten “most Muslim” cities are Makhachkala, Grozny, Kazan, Naberezhny Chelny, Ufa, Sterlitamak, Stavropol, Astrakhan, Nizhnevartovsk, and Rostov-na-Donu.

            The ten cities with the most interest in pagan and neo-pagan religions, including ancient Russian and pre-Christian faiths, the sociologists report, are Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Stavropol, Belgorod, Magnitogorsk, Sterlitamak, Lipetsk, Kostroma, Novorossiisk, Taganrog, and Tula.

            Several cities are on more than one list.  Muscovites display a high interest in both Orthodoxy and Islam. Residents of Lipetsk, Kaluga, Kursk, Belgorod, and Tambov show high interest in both Orthodoxy and neo-paganism. And residents of Stavropol, Simferopol, Nizhny Novgorod, and Magnitogorsk show high levels of interest in Islam and neo-paganism.

            The only Russian city to be near the top on all three lists is Ulyanovsk.

            These patterns may prove more important than one might think. On the one hand, the findings in some cases simply reflect the number of followers of each of these three faiths. But on the other, they may reflect a heightened interest in and thus a greater potential for conflict among these various religious trends.

‘Putinism in Ukraine is Nationalism,’ Illarionov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 6 – In addition to all the other ways in which he has profited from the Minsk Accords over the last year to weaken Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has achieved a “much more serious” victory by causing Ukrainians to fail to make a clear distinction between the actions of the Kremlin ruler and the Russians as a people, according to Andrey Illarionov

            Over the last year, the Russian analyst says that Ukrainians increasingly insist “there are no good Russians” and that “Ukrainians have no friends in Russia,” attitudes that reflect “the defeat of Ukrainian civil society and the victory of Putinism in the minds of Ukrainians” (

            “Putinism in Russia,” he points out, “is imperialism” and its specific version – “’Crimea is Ours’-ism” which has “infected a large part of Russian society. Such things include “hostility to neighbors” and stories of how Austrians invented Ukraine, how Ukrainians are fascists and “Judeo-Banderites.”

            But there is a variant of Putinism in Ukraine, and it is nationalism, Illarionov says, which involves an unwillingness of a significant portion of the population there to “distinguish the Kremelin and the non-Kremlin, the Russian powers that be and Russian civil society,” including many of that society who speak out in defense of Ukraine.

            Just a year ago, he continues, “Ukrainians clearly distinguished the two,” but now such distinctions are largely absent. Today, Ukrainians say that “they do not see any difference. Of course, this is a major victory for the Kremlin and a serious defeat for free Ukraine and for the Russian opposition.”

            A major contributing factor in this shift has been the consequences of the Minsk Accords for Ukraine. They have weakened its economy, they have isolated it diplomatically, and they have undermined its legal and constitutional order, leaving many Ukrainians feeling isolated and alone.

            Since the Minsk Accords were signed in February 2015, the Russian GDP fell 3.7 percent; but that of Ukraine fell 12 percent. Moreover, if a year ago, “all the criticism of the West was directed at the Kremlin and Putin,” then it was balanced between them,” and now “the main pressure is being applied on Ukraine: ‘You aren’t fulfilling the Minsk Accords.’”

            Thus, while a year ago, “Kyiv beyond dispute had Western allies,” the drawing out of the conflict through the Minsk process has led to “an erosion of the allied front” and to discussions about how Ukraine is failing to do what it must do and how the West should thus consider lifting sanctions on Russia.

            And also over this period and as a result of Minsk, the West has put enormous pressure on Ukraine to modify its constitution and laws in precisely the way Moscow wants.  Given all that, Illarionov suggests, Putin, if he didn’t win outright at least stopped losing – and that is a kind of victory.

            Moreover, if a year ago, the West was isolating Putin, now its leaders are rushing to visit Moscow or to talk to him on the telephone.  This is justified by the importance of Syria to the West, another conflict that has had the effect of driving off the charts of most Western leaders the issue of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

            And the Minsk process had another negative consequence: It “created the illusion with [Ukrainians] and the West that it is possible to reach agreement with an aggressor. This is evidence of a failure to understand the psychology and motivations behind Putin’s actions,” Illarionov says.

            But as far as the shift in Ukrainian attitudes toward Russians as a whole over the past year is concerned,  he continues, for Ukrainians to hold Russians “who  live under conditions of a harsh authoritarian and semi-totalitarian regime responsible for the actions of the Russian authorities is almost the same as to hold North Koreans responsible for the Kim regime.”

            Many Russians “hope that a free and successful Ukraine will help change the situation in Russia above all by its own example, one which will demonstrate to all: look the Ukrainians made a revolution, new people came to power, they changed the system, they built a successful state. Let’s do the same!”

            But now, “Russians say: look at Ukraine, again there are the oligarchs, again they are stealing, again there is corruption. Honestly speaking, there is no response to this. [Russian liberals] cannot be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians.”

            In a final comment, the Russian commentator is sharply critical of Ukraine’s diplomatic activity. He suggests that it is not only having a minimal impact but that it is significantly less active than it was only a year ago.

‘Third Rome to Meet First Rome to Oppose Second Rome,’ Kholmogorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 6 – The upcoming meeting of Moscow Patriarch Kirill with Pope Francis in Cuba is not only a major boost for the status of the Russian Orthodox Church, suggesting as it does that Moscow somehow represents all Orthodox as Rome represents all Roman Catholics.

            It is also another distraction from the horrific behavior of the Russian state in Ukraine and Syria, behavior aided and abetted by the Moscow Patriarchate; and for these reasons alone, it represents a major breakthrough for Moscow even if it doesn’t lead to any broader contacts, something many in the Russian church itself oppose.

            But as Russian nationalist commentator Yegor Kholmogorov points out, the most immediately important goal of this meeting of the Third Rome as Moscow styles itself with the leader of the First Rome is to oppose two policies of the Second Rome, Constantinople or more broadly Turkey (

            On the one hand, Kirill wants to secure the support of Francis for doing more to protect Christians in the Middle East, a means of checkmating Turkey’s role in Syria and elsewhere.  And on the other, Kirill wants Francis to refrain from any support of an independent Orthodox church in Ukraine, something the Universal Patriarch in Constantinople has been considering.

Moscow’s efforts to develop and exploit relations with the Vatican have faced numerous obstacles in the past: Catholic hostility to communism, Polish Pope John Paul II’s opposition to Moscow’s hegemony in Eastern Europe, and problems within Catholicism which blocked Benedict XVI from engaging in active diplomacy.

            According to Kholmogorov, “the new pope represents a paradoxical mixture of traditionalism and renewal, is an energetic diplomat and what is especially important is a representative of the new main region of Catholicism, Latin America.” Because he is a traditionalist, he is not as distant from Orthodoxy on many issues; and because he is a modernist, he is not as obsessed with doctrinal distinctions as his predecessors.

            That means that “the way for diplomatic dialogue, not of uniatism or concessions on matters of faith but cooperation on questions which trouble Christians of the entire world,” Kholmogorov continues.  The main one of these today is the war against Christians in the Middle East, a war that he says continues where they are not protected by the Russian air force.

            Patriarch Kirill clearly hopes to get Pope Francis’ support on this, something that would undercut not only Turkey but the West more generally. At the same time, he seeks to “obtain from the Vatican a guarantee at a minimum of neutrality in the war against the canonical Church in Ukraine” by pro-Kyiv “splitters.”

            If the pope agrees to that, then the Uniates in Ukraine will remain neutral, and protecting “the status of canonical parishes in Ukraine will be made significantly easier.”  More broadly, Kholmogorov says, Kirill hopes to use this meeting to boost his status as “the undoubted leader of the Orthodox world” and thus eclipse the Universal Patriarch Bartholemiu of Constantinople, who is “absolutely Western-oriented, pro-American and at the same time pro-Turkish.”

            “The tragedy in the sky over Syria, where [a Russian] bomber whose mission included the defense of Syrian Christians was shot down has had providential significance,” he says, forcing the upcoming All-Orthodox assembly to be shifted from Istanbul where the Universal Patriarch is strong to Crete where he has less influence.

            At the Cuba meeting, Kholmogorov says, Kirill will certainly suggest to Francis that the Vatican “deal with the Orthodox world not through the insignificant although aggression” Universal Patriarch but rather by means of “immediate conversation with Moscow, the largest of the Orthodox churches of the world which operates on the unqualified authority and sincere symphony with Great Russia.”

            “Now,” the Russian nationalist commentator says, “the Vatican represents a lesser threat” than does Istanbul because were the All-Orthodox assembly to take decisions “against the Russian church, that would inflict “much greater harm on Orthodoxy than any diplomacy with Rome.”