Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev

Godless and gutless

Putin is no Christian bastion, but neither is the West

Artillery Row

Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine gives a lie to all those silly daydreams about his being a pillar of Christian and conservative values. The two lengthy speeches which Putin delivered this week to justify the war, make his motives clear. In his world, Ukraine is just an administrative unit within the Soviet Union, whose territory was given to it by Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev; it was an unintended, unfortunate incident of history that it ever became independent. Addressing his troops as “comrades”, Putin made their mission abundantly clear: the Soviet empire is coming back to take what belongs to it.

Unlike Putin’s Russia, Ukraine is a Christian and democratic nation. It is now under attack from the self-proclaimed heirs of the godless USSR. The premise of that attack is explicitly that neither the Ukrainian state nor the Orthodox Church of Ukraine have any right to exist.

Putin’s version of Christianity is a very peculiar one

It is true that Putin has indulged in some blasphemous flirting with Christianity; but his version of Christianity is a very peculiar one. He is prepared to be a patron of the Church because having a “strong” church is useful for an empire, but there are conditions attached to that. There may be only one church (subject to strict hierarchical discipline not dissimilar to Putin’s secular power structures), and that church must obey and serve the secular government. For example, when a hundred of brave Russian Orthodox priests in 2019 signed an open letter urging Christian charity towards imprisoned opposition protestors, the iron fist of the “loyal” church hierarchy promptly came down upon many of the signatories.

What the invading Russian troops bring with them is not only political tyranny, but also religious persecution, of Soviet style and proportions, for anyone who does not conform to Putin’s utilitarian view of religion. Russia enforces severe laws against unlicensed “missionary activities”, as well as against “extremism” generally, and Putin’s regime does not hesitate to apply them to Christians. Parts of Ukraine occupied by Russia since 2014, such as Crimea and Donetsk, have seen serious persecution of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which worships in Ukrainian language and claims independence from the Patriarch of Moscow.

Facing this awful threat, Ukrainians look to the West with hope alas, their hopes seem to be misplaced. Western support and alliances no longer count for much. We supported Afghanistan and then abandoned it to the Taliban. We supported Hong Kong, then abandoned it to communist China. By the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, the US, UK and Russia guaranteed independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, specifically against any military invasion, in exchange for her giving up nuclear weapons. Now that Russia has torn up that international agreement, all the US and the UK are prepared to do pursuant to their “guarantee” is rhetoric and some toothless economic sanctions.

Only today, the Defence Secretary has ruled out acceding to the Ukrainian President’s desperate plea to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The UK is once again unwilling to honour its “guarantee” of protecting the weak because it fears military retaliation from the aggressor. Even so, the least we could do is to leave Putin in suspense about that why did Mr Wallace assure him loud and clear that he need not fear us?

What has the West to offer — a crusade for wokeness?

The comfortable world we’ve lived in following the end of the Cold War, where the victorious West acted as a global policeman to enforce some basic international law, has now come to an end and our adversaries know it. In 1990, the West went to war with Iraq simply on the principle that nobody is allowed to invade a neighbouring independent state. That principle sounds like a naïve utopia today. Might is right once more, and the world is a great deal more dangerous.

This has happened for many reasons. The West has shortsightedly cut its military capabilities once the Soviet Union was dead (or, as we now know with hindsight, had successfully faked its own death). The West has squandered its economic wealth on megalomaniac fads — from equality and diversity, to preventing climate change, to giving a free Sabbatical to the whole humankind in connection with Covid. There is no money left for the defence of the realm.

However, the real root of the problem lies deeper. The West is no longer that “Christian civilisation” (to use a Churchillian phrase) which won the Second World War against all the odds; it is no longer “the free world” which won the Cold War against all the odds. Having largely discarded its Christian religion and belief in political freedom, the West has lost much of its moral high ground. The West has accepted the notion that human rights are all about LGBT and nothing but LGBT — no wonder that Putins of this world love that idea, which makes it so much easier and more credible to say that Russians, Ukrainians and other Christian nations need no human rights or Western values.

The way our governments have trampled upon civil liberties in response to Covid makes us look like a less efficient version of the People’s Republic of China. The way we are happy to “cancel” dissenters against cultural Marxism is reminiscent of Putin’s treatment of his own dissenters, except that we are not consistent enough to conclude the process by imprisoning or killing them. What has the West to offer to the enslaved Russians, to the fighting Ukrainians or to its own soldiers — a crusade for wokeness and inclusivity? As the West is on track for building our own “light” version of a totalitarian society, it is only natural that a second-rate tyranny cannot win against first-rate tyrannies such as Russia, China or Taliban.

Now that they have sensed our weakness, the list of their victims will not end with Ukraine. We may very well expect a Chinese invasion of Taiwan next — there is no longer any reason why not. Or an Islamist invasion of somewhere, or Putin’s invasion beyond Ukraine. Unless the West miraculously regains its strength, it is now a matter of waiting and guessing which of them will reach London first. As was the case in the beginning of every world war, it is important to rebuild military and economic strength — yet it is more important to regain the moral strength which gave our fathers the courage and determination to fight against the odds.

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