The Ukrainian Crisis and the Geopolitics of Christendom

The secularized former Christendom is facing off against a Russia that wants to reclaim its imperialist - and Christian - past.

In an April 2005 address to the Russian parliament, then (and, now, again) president of Russia Vladimir Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union one of the “major geopolitical disasters” of the twentieth century.

It’s not that the former KGB operative wanted to return to bread lines and the other splendors of centralized economic planning. No sane person wants Venezuela. Putin’s meaning was, as he said, geopolitical. It wasn’t the economic system that was great but the land which the Soviet Union encompassed. The ideology was rotten—Putin seems to understand that as well as anyone. But the grand political imaginary which bundled a giant hunk of Eurasia was not something just to throw away on a lark. That is what Putin seems to mean when he laments what the Soviet Union used to be.

There is some indication that many within the former Soviet Union agree with him. The Kremlin is downplaying this nostalgia now, but protesting a bit too much, I think. The moves make the man. Putin is clearly making a play to recover lost ground.

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This is not an entirely unreasonable thing for a political leader to do, especially the leader of what is essentially a weak shadow of a former behemoth of a realm. A tremendous empire broke up when the Soviet Union came crashing down. Ever since, the region has struggled to regain the clout it once had under what was a nightmarish, but mighty, regime.

Consider that with the fall of the Soviet regime, Russia lost vast swaths of territory: the Eastern Bloc (including Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, the latter two of which further disintegrated after the Soviet Union ended), Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and much more.

Including also, of course, Ukraine, which as I write this is the focus of a rapidly escalating standoff between the West and Moscow. Whether war is in the offing only God knows. But if war is avoided it will not be because many were not trying everything they could to bring it about.

But in the midst of this latest round of banging on the war drums and vying for supremacy in Ukraine, let us remember what the bigger goals are for which everyone is fighting.

On the American side, their own empire is on the line. After a humiliating exit from Afghanistan last summer, and a steady erosion of credibility in the Asia-Pacific region concomitant with the rise of China (which Washington has not only failed to stop but positively encouraged), a loss in Ukraine would spell doom for the worldwide system of military alliances and forward deployments which has become the framework for the Pentagon’s lucrative “security” business.

NATO is the mirror image of the Pentagon in that sense. NATO, too, wants to ensure its continued existence. But because Germany—one of the nations that NATO was ostensibly designed both to rein in and also to protect from Russia’s former iteration, the Soviet Union—has shown itself much more interested in continuing imports of Russian natural gas than in taking part in a war over the Crimea and surrounding region, the NATO gambit in Ukraine looks almost as desperate as Washington’s.

Ukraine is a different story. Some in Ukraine want to remain separate from Russia, to tip the scales of Ukrainian life toward Europe and the West. Others want to throw in their lot with Moscow. Atop this divided country is one of the most corrupt governments in the world—corruption which Americans glimpsed these past few years thanks to the many American elites (Hunter and Joe Biden, Rudy Giuliani, and Paul Manafort, to name just a few) who have gotten ensnared in the pitfall of Ukrainian politics.

Then there is Russia. What does Russia want? The question is perhaps more precisely put, “What does Vladimir Putin want?” But this brings us right back to Russia, for Putin seems to want what most Russians seem to want: a return to the Soviet Union. Not the Soviet Union of Brezhnev and Chernenko. Not the failed, decrepit, lurching communist hellhole which swallowed down freedom and material comfort. The Soviet Union as mantle for the former Orthodox Russian Empire.

Much-touted nostalgia for the Soviet Union, I think, is a stand-in for a much bigger, much older Russian dream. The political imaginary of a Christian empire. The Russian Empire, the Christendom of the East, the Third Rome, the land where the Orthodox Faith was once, and is again today, widely accepted.

This is not to say that this is what Putin is advertising. Putin is a wily fox and is not going to make something as hard to control as religion a centerpiece of his political showcase. But he has signaled time and again that he is Orthodox, and this quiet witness to faith speaks much louder than the political theater that other leaders have made of their churchgoing bona fides. By many accounts (including his own), Putin is a Christian man leading a Christian people. There is enormous strength that flows from this—geopolitical and, yes, otherwise.

To put it bluntly, if God will be on some side in the Ukraine mess, then wouldn’t that be the side of the Christian armies?

Whatever the reader thinks of this admittedly provocative argument—and let us grant pro arguendo that Putin is simply a cynical faker and doesn’t really believe—contrast it with what the NATO side is offering. NATO is a strange, foreign name, and commands little allegiance apart from the at-a-remove allegiance of soldiers fighting for their own member countries. In other words, if war comes, very few people are going to go out to fight for NATO (another big Putin advantage, incidentally). But if you put the pieces of the puzzle together and look at it sidelong, you see something else: a big chunk of what used to be called Christendom.

It’s not a perfect match, of course. For one thing, Turkey’s in NATO now, and the Ottoman Empire was once very much not part of Christendom. But you get the idea. NATO is Christendom, but secularized. NATO is the Christendom that largely stopped believing in Christ, or in anything really, long ago.

The United States, for its part, has, in many ways, gone even farther down the post-Christian road than Europe has. If NATO is rejiggered and hollowed-out Christendom, then the globalist-run militarist monstrosity in the Pentagon is a devil that never had religion in the first place.

This deracinated Christendom tag-teaming with a pentagram-shaped war machine, the pair enervated by nihilism and depravity, and in the thrall of a hateful and destructive ideology, is now proposing to go up against a Christian powerhouse with a score to settle with history.

[Photo Credit: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images]

  • Jason Morgan

    Jason Morgan is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Reitaku University in Chiba, Japan. He earned his doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. His reviews, essays, and translations have appeared in Modern Age, Metamorphoses, Japan Forward, Logos, Human Life Review, University Bookman and elsewhere.

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