By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. and its NATO allies have been stymied over how to stop Russian aggression without precipitating a nuclear exchange. It represents the end of the old world order with the U.S. at its apex. Christian nationalism has complicated the political crisis with the Russian Orthodox Church supporting Putin’s unprovoked aggression.
In America the mantra is America First, represented by Donald Trump and his coterie of white Christian charlatans, while in Russia it’s Putin’s Russian World. With both sides having vast arsenals of nuclear weapons, the future of the world hangs in the balance. The irony is that both nations claim to be Christian democracies, while ignoring the moral teachings of Jesus.
A majority of white Christians elected Donald Trump President in 2016, and he remains the most powerful person in the Republican Party with his radical-right political minions and white Christian supporters. The Democratic Party is a collection of minorities who don’t relate to mainstream Americans, leaving centrists without an effective voice in Congress.
Trump’s narcissistic immorality is the antithesis of the altruistic morality taught by Jesus, summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. It’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and in politics it’s a moral imperative to provide for the common good.
Putin has much in common with Trump. The Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine to restore the Soviet Union and make Russia the leader of a new world order; and Trump has praised Putin as he continues to seek autocratic power by promoting white supremacy and denigrating libertarian democracy in American politics.
Russia’s threat of nuclear retaliation against military intervention in Ukraine has so far prevented any direct intervention, but economic sanctions against Russia and arms for Ukraine have failed to stop Russian aggression. Submitting to Russian intimidation and the destruction of freedom and democracy in Ukraine is a greater risk to world peace than nuclear retaliation.
America and NATO should convene an international peace conference to explore all options for peace before any intervention, making it clear to Putin that if measures short of intervention fail to end Russian aggression, the free world will not be held hostage to Putin’s nuclear threats. De oppresso liber (to liberate from oppression) must prevail over aggression.
Christian support in America and Russia for America First and Russian World nationalist ideologies illustrates the obsolescence of Christianity in geopolitics, and portends further armed conflict. Christian nationalism fails to provide for the common good and peaceful coexistence. It should be challenged by an international peace conference; and if Russian aggression continues in Ukraine, military intervention may be needed--even at the risk of nuclear war.
“Week after week the powerful head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch KIrill, is working to ensure that the faithful are all in on their country’s invasion of Ukraine. Whether warning about the ‘external enemies’ attempting to divide the ‘united people’ of Russia and Ukraine, or very publicly blessing the generals leading soldiers in the field, Patriarch Kirill has become one of the war’s most prominent backers. His sermons echo, and in some cases even supply, the rhetoric that President Vladimir Putin has used to justify the assault on cities and civilians. ‘Let this image inspire young soldiers who take the oath, who embark on the path of defending the fatherland,’ Kirill intoned as he gave a gilded icon to Gen. Viktor Zolotov during a service at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in mid-March. The precious gift, the general responded, would protect the troops in their battles against Ukrainian “Nazis.”
“Any war has to have guns and ideas,” said Cyril Hovorun, professor of ecclesiology, international relations and ecumenism at University College Stockholm. “In this war the Kremlin has provided the guns, and I believe the church is providing the ideas.” The Orthodox Church was a dominant force in Russian life until the Bolshevik Revolution, when the Soviets heavily restricted the faith and purged many priests. A mini-revival of religion was allowed during World War II to inspire a “patriotic impulse” in society, explained Andrey Kordochkin, a Russian Orthodox priest in Madrid. But the state kept tight control.
Russia’s post-Soviet constitution restored religious freedom, sparking an upsurge in believers, with the share of adults identifying as Orthodox Christian rising from 31 percent to 72 percent between 1991 and 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. Only about 7 percent regularly attended church as of 2008, however. The end of the Soviet period left an “ideological hole” in Russian society, a void that Hovorun said Kirill rushed to fill as he rose through the church ranks and became patriarch in 2009. He turned to the Russkiy mir [Russian World] doctrine, as did Putin five years later when he annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Kirill, an ally who once praised the early years of Putin’s rule as “a miracle of God,” did not speak out against the annexation. His sermons since the war began in late February have repeatedly cast foreign enemies, not Russia, as the aggressors attempting to divide neighboring countries that he describes as “one people.” “God forbid that the current political situation in fraternal Ukraine, which is close to us, should be aimed at ensuring that the evil forces that have always fought against the unity of Rus and the Russian Church gain the upper hand,” Kirill said days after Russia invaded.
Several days later, one of Kirill’s lieutenants circulated a letter asking churches to read a prayer beseeching God to “overthrow the plans” of “strangers speaking foreign tongues” who want to fight Russia. “Most of the countries of the world are now under the colossal influence of one force, which today, unfortunately, opposes the force of our people,” Kirill said, apparently referring to the United States. “All of our people today must wake up, wake up, understand that a special time has come, on which the historical fate of our people may depend.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/18/russian-orthodox-church-ukraine-war/?utm.
“The Russian Orthodox Church is one of the largest and most influential in the world, with more than 100 million followers, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2009, Kirill was elected patriarch — the first since the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then Kirill has solidified his role as an ally of the Kremlin, helping Putin cloak his political and military ambitions in the language of faith. On Feb. 23, one day before the invasion, Kirill released a statement praising Putin for his “high and responsible service to the people of Russia” and describing mandatory military service as “an active manifestation of evangelical love for neighbors.” In the weeks since the war started, Kirill has used his sermons to justify the campaign, portraying it as a struggle against sinful Western culture — although he is careful to avoid referring to the conflict as a war or invasion that was launched by Russia. He has focused almost entirely on what he calls Ukraine’s “extermination” of pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region in the eastern part of the country. Earlier this month, Kirill delivered a sermon urging Russians to rally around the government “during this difficult time,” the Reuters news agency reported..” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/24/russia-ukraine-orthodox-church/?utm.
On De oppresso liber, Where Religion and Politics Intersect (commentary from May 15, 2015), see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/05/de-oppresso-liber-where-religion-and.html.
The New Nuclear Reality on Russia’s war in Ukraine has reawakened fears about the bomb--and endangered the principle of deterrence. “Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has jolted the world back into an uncomfortable consciousness of the nuclear threat. In the past month, official warnings have emerged at a striking pace. ‘Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,’ William Burns, the C.I.A. director and a former ambassador to Russia, warned on April 14th. The U.S. assessment of when and why Moscow might use such weaponry has changed, Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, conceded in testimony to a House Armed Services subcommittee. A prolonged war in Ukraine will sap Russia’s manpower and matériel, while sanctions will throw the nation into an economic depression and undermine its ability to produce more precision-guided munitions and conventional arms, he said. ‘As this war and its consequences slowly weaken Russian conventional strength, Russia likely will increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength to its internal and external audiences.’ Putin’s aggression is ‘reviving fears’ of a more ‘militaristic Russia.’
Putin’s reckless war now has a “distinct nuclear dimension”—with lessons that extend far beyond Ukraine and that will endure after the war is over, the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C., concluded this month. Putin’s invasion ‘underscores the reality that nuclear weapons don’t prevent major wars,’ said Daryl Kimball, the organization’s executive director. ‘U.S. and NATO nuclear weapons have proven to be useless in preventing Russian aggression against Ukraine.’ The war has imperilled a long-standing premise of deterrence—having a bomb to avoid being bombed. Kimball reflected, ‘When nuclear deterrence fails, it fails catastrophically.’ The type of nuclear weapons most at issue has also changed. There’s more than one. The U.S. dropped two strategic nuclear bombs on Japan. Strategic weapons are long-range—they travel some three thousand miles—and produce high-yield explosions. The other type of nuclear weapons are tactical, or nonstrategic, which the U.S. is more worried about today. They are shorter-range—they travel up to three hundred miles—and often have lower-yield warheads. (Some, though, carry more kilotons than the Hiroshima bomb.) They are designed to take out tank or troop formations on a battlefield—not wipe out a city. In the history of nuclear weapons, there has never been a treaty—bilateral or international—that limits developing or deploying tactical nukes anywhere. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union produced thousands each, with Moscow controlling up to twenty-five thousand. Afterward, the U.S. dismantled most of its tactical arsenal and withdrew most of those weapons from Europe. Russia kept more of its stockpile. There is now a vast disparity in tactical arsenals. Last month, the Congressional Research Service reported that Russia has up to two thousand tactical nukes, while the U.S. has around two hundred.
Since the nineteen-sixties, experts have debated whether Washington and Moscow would use a limited number of tactical nuclear weapons on a conventional battlefield—for example, to destroy a military position or gain a chunk of territory. “The answer is no,” Kimball said. “There is nothing like a limited nuclear war.” At the end of his military career, McKenzie, who spent more than four decades preparing for wars of all kinds, reflected on the nuclear stakes. “We should be rattled right now,” he said. “I am rattled. I’m concerned about where we are.” Three decades after Gorbachev’s speech, the respite now seems illusory. See https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-new-nuclear-reality?utm.The threat of nuclear war has created “a widespread belief of Russians that they have two choices: Win this war or be destroyed. They justify Putin’s fratricide because the West, and ‘internal Ukrainians,’ present an existential threat. The survival instinct is extremely powerful in Russia, where various invasions from the West define the historical experience. There is a mode of Russian collective behavior in the face of mortal danger: People forget their old grievances and rally behind the leader, even one hated by many. This is what happened in 1941, when the victims and perpetrators of communist genocide united under Joseph Stalin to repel the existential threat posed by the Nazis. Russians are not facing an existential threat now, of course. Rather, it is their own country that’s posing an existential threat to a neighbor. But the human tendency is to grasp for comforting, rather than truthful, narratives. The West will not win this conflict unless it gets Russians on board. But without a clearly spelled-out vision of a post-Putin Russia fully integrated into the West — the kind of vision that inspires Ukrainians to fight against Putin — the vector of Russian society will remain fratricidal and, increasingly, suicidal. This is bad news for everyone on the planet, given that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is capable of destroying humanity. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/04/22/putin-biden-russians-existential-choice/?utm.