The countries with which Russia feels itself at odds today are not "enemies," but "unfriendly" countries. The theses of Vladimir Solov'ev, who at the threshold of the 20th century recalled the "feminine nature" of Russia to ponder the depths of this definition. In this perspective, war is a reaction that affirms the injustice and masculine violence of a West that lives for itself and does not honor its bride's capacity for sacrifice, her desire to generate a new world.
Why does the Moscow Patriarchate strongly support aggression against Ukraine rather than peace? Its ambiguities are already found in the “Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church”, adopted in 2000. Kirill would like to mark military victory with the reunification of all Russians, but so far all he has seen is the loss of many parts of a Church that would like to become universal.
Max Scheler argued that the best demonstration of the Russian culture of resentment are the 'humiliated and offended' heroes of Gogol, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Today, the Russians think they have done their part after the end of the Cold War, while 'the others' have taken advantage of it. This anger has exploded in Ukraine, showing the whole world how little has been understood about a people not only proud of their traditions, but able to expose the hypocrisies and weaknesses of others.
At every political, social and even religious level, the direct line of command has become increasingly important for Putin and his inner circle, as the main propaganda tool to convey the image of a super-efficient president, close to everyone’s problems, invested even with a divine mission, which the country cannot do without.
The mission of the two Thessalonian brothers is indeed a prophecy not only of the development of the peoples of Eastern Europe, but even of their conflicts. Well before the Baptism of Kiev in 988, the endless wars between Russians and Poles, up to the present conflict, Europe had remained unfinished. And their language remained 'written on water' and blood, waiting for a new miracle of peace.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has brought a slew of accusations, many against the so-called Anglo-Saxons, a view repeated on several occasions by the Kremlin. Notwithstanding cultural juxtapositions, the expression reveals a strategy designed to drive a wedge among Russia’s enemies. Moscow wants to see the ongoing conflict end with a world in which Russia, the Anglosaksy, and Europe are well defined.
Beyond the actual military conquests, and the destruction of population centres, to what extent do the people of the so-called 'independent republics' wish to reunite with Russia?
Rushism is the new ideal of conquest in the post-global world. Instead of cultural levelling, everyone is trying to win against everyone. After almost a century of laying in the background, weapons are heard again, like at the end of La Belle Époque, a time when the invention of electric lighting, radio and cars seemed to have definitively let humanity out of the caves.
It was the members of the nineteenth-century intelligentsia who gave rise to it with the call to "go to the people" after the abolition of serfdom. But today the dictatorship of the "simple man" is destroying Russia even more than the tormented Ukraine, much more than militant Soviet atheism has done in seventy years.
Holy Week rituals and traditions are exploited in Russia and Ukraine. The mid-June Jerusalem meeting between the pope and the Moscow patriarch has been cancelled “until better times”. Going against the current, Metropolitan Onufriy's offers hope: “[T]he world lives for the sake of those righteous who have placed in their hearts the Risen Christ, the Strong and Mighty God, who made them strong and powerful. Such people sacrificially love the whole world”.
Russian spirituality recognises a category of saints known as strastoterptsy, 'those who suffered the passion', often persecuted for political reasons, who were able to live through their ordeal by bearing witness to a deep faith. Like the Orthodox priests who today are willing to pay a price to invoke an end to the aggression of Ukraine: "I am not dead and I have not flown to Mars, I am not abandoning the priesthood, but I cannot pray for war".
In an 1864 novel by Dostoevsky, a short imperial officer sits in the basement of his home, angry at the whole world and eager for revenge. In Tolstoy's War and Peace, unlike the war litany of the priest, Natasha “prayed to God to forgive them all, and her too”. These are the two faces that show how Russian culture, today a victim of propaganda and ideology, can help to truly understand what is happening in this war.
In the fog of mistrust and hostility that has long imobilized relations between Catholics and Orthodox in Russia, the charge of proselytism has been progressively "neutralised". However, another accusation remained, far more incisive and historically well-founded in its various interpretations: that of Uniatism in Ukraine. The history of a Church since 1596 reluctant to exalt the Moscow "third Rome".
Historical revisionism and appeals to popular conscience can no longer justify one system against another, one country against another, one ideology against another. Whatever the outcome of the war will be, it will be a different world for everyone and not only for Russia and Ukraine.
The grotesque and tragic Russia described by Vladimir Sorokin in his 2006 novel “Day of the Oprichnik” unravels the tormented soul of a country that is always its own first enemy, and for this it needs to feel at war with all the others. It almost seems that the political and religious leaders of present-day Russia feel the duty to turn the nightmares of literature into facts.
From the "old-believers" to the samizdat, dissent has always been a feature of Russian society. Despite the heavy censorship and repression exercised by Putin in recent years, it is once again emerging "from under the rocks", according to Solzhenitsyn's famous expression.
What will remain of Putin’s regime after this war no longer matters that much. It has achieved its goal, which was not Kyiv’s conquest, but the disintegration of the hated world order called “globalisation”. Ukraine also marks a point of no return for Orthodoxy, which will now be tested by the military imposition of Putin's dogma.
The conflict between Moscow and Kiev reignites every century in a 'family fight', as the young Nikolai Gogol described it in the extraordinary novella 'Taras Bulba', coming from the Ukrainian countryside and taken under the protective wing of the great imperial poets in St Petersburg. The dream of Christians and all men of good will is that it is the pacifying embrace between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will avert conflict.
The defection of Alexandrian priests to the Russian patriarchate seems unstoppable. The real “canonical war” within Orthodoxy is being played out today in Africa where Moscow's interests are as much spiritual as they are material, pastoral, political, liturgical and military.
Despite the professions of eternal friendship between the Russians and the Chinese, which Putin renewed at the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing, Moscow is looking to Asia to break away from Europe and America, and needs New Delhi to avoid being suffocated by China. And it is not such a new phenomenon either.
In the Ukraine battleground, the great Asian empire wins again. No one has ever equalled it, neither the British with their Commonwealth, nor the Americans who tried to “export democracy” last century. However, a break with the West would leave Russia all alone vis-à-vis China. And the two Asian empires will have to show their cards.
Russia is home to more than 200 nationalities, but expresses a culture dominated by a single people, the Russian, which in Asia presents itself as European and in Europe repeats the battle cry of the Asian peoples. Russia's own claims to "security guarantees" in negotiations with the West to prevent the Ukrainian conflict from escalating contain all the suggestions of a nation that perceives itself as "intercontinental".
Tensions in the post-Soviet space have revived a concept that is more than a simplification about language and space. Its universal claim is rooted in Kievan Rus' and is embodied in Moscow's current ambition to “see far”. However, at present, it is confronted more and more by the reactions of “fraternal” peoples.