Putin’s Unholy War – by Tom Nichols for The Atlantic – 19.04.22

Putin, the Patriarch, and the corruption of Orthodox Christianity


For most of the Christian world, Easter is over. For Orthodox Christians, however, Easter week has just begun—and Russia, the largest Orthodox country in the world, is still relentlessly pursuing the invasion and barbaric destruction of its mostly Orthodox neighbor, Ukraine.


In fact, the renewed Russian offensive in the Donbas, replete with day and night bombardment of mostly Orthodox, mostly Russian-speaking areas in eastern Ukraine, began just after Russians and Ukrainians observed Palm Sunday.

I note this because I, too, am an Orthodox Christian, and I am watching one nominally Orthodox nation try to slaughter another.


In most of my comments on the Russian war against Ukraine, I’ve tried, as best I can, to provide you with dispassionate analysis. But I hope this week you’ll allow me a few personal observations as I head toward Easter. I realize that sometimes the cold equations of political analysis can seem far removed from our emotions, and so I thought I would share with you some of my own.


Although my career was mostly spent as a scholar and Russia expert, it is difficult for any area specialist to be completely objective about the countries they study, because our lives end up unavoidably connected to the subject of our profession.


Sometimes, it’s an adversarial relationship: In my youth, I was a Reaganite Cold Warrior, and I never hesitated to say so even in discussions with Soviet military officers. (One Soviet colonel told me that he appreciated that kind of honesty more than false good wishes, and we toasted—repeatedly—to our mutual candor.)


In midcareer and middle age, however, I changed course, and I ardently hoped for the success of Russian democracy. I was a vocal advocate for better relations with the new Russia, including security cooperation and the reduction of nuclear arsenals.


In my 40s, I became the adoptive father of a daughter born in Russia, a great joy that has produced an all-American kid who knows much about her own heritage—a birthright I would never take from her.


My education was steeped in Russian philosophy and history. Russian art fills my home. My bookshelves are lined with volumes in Russian and English, with everything from Russian translations of American science fiction to multi-volume biographies of Lenin and Stalin. I have written a few books of my own, including one on how to deepen Russian constitutionalism (a now-dead project) and how to deter a nuclear war with Russia (a project very much alive, sadly).


Nonetheless, whether friend or enemy, I have spent my life trying to understand Russia and its people. Now, like everyone, I am disgusted by Russian savagery. Fury grows in me each time I see the mutilated corpses and leveled homes—not only because of the sadistic violence, but also because I know that the Russian regime, in trying to destroy the Ukrainian nation, has destroyed a chance, at least for some years to come, for a better world.


And for what?


For the messianic dreams of a small man, a frightened and delusional thug leading a criminal enterprise masquerading as a government, who believes that he is doing God’s will.


You might be surprised at the last sentence, but Vladimir Putin really believes this. He thinks he’s on a mission.


I’ll come back to this in a moment, but it’s a reality that too many in the West have either overlooked or chosen to ignore. And as much as I’d like to lay all of this mayhem on Putin’s shoulders alone, we now have to accept that his butchery of innocent people is either tacitly or openly supported by millions of Russians. Yes, there are brave Russians who have risked their lives to protest this war, but there is no way, any longer, to deny that Putin enjoys more support than any decent nation should give to such horror.


And so I grieve not only for Ukraine, but for the knowledge that no matter how this war ends, the era of hope that began in 1989 is over. Ukraine is now the scene of the largest conflict in Europe since World War II. NATO and Russia are openly enemies again. Nuclear war, for a time a forgotten abstraction, is a real danger.


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Putin’s Unholy War – by Tom Nichols for The Atlantic – 19.04.22
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