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What Russia Means

I want to tell you why Western elites hate Russia.

(Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

I have something I want to tell you, though I am not sure how to say it. 

Maybe a wiser man would keep quiet, but I have tried that, and it feels more like cowardice than wisdom. So, my instinct is to borrow a page from Peter Hitchens’s book and say up front that—no matter how artfully I argue my point, no matter how carefully I qualify my thesis—most readers will deliberately choose to misunderstand me. 


I want to tell you why Western elites hate Russia. 

Of course, you would think 8,836 dead civilians casualties (and counting) would be reason enough. But if we are being honest—which, again, I’m not sure we can be—our elites hated Russia long before she invaded Ukraine. What is more, that hatred helped to precipitate the invasion. 

Let me be clear: Nothing that I say is somehow meant to “balance out” the innocent dead. That can’t be done. I am not trying to excuse or exonerate the Putin regime. I am trying to understand Russia, because the fate of Western civilization is intimately bound up with the fate of Russian civilization. 

You may balk, and I don’t blame you. But I hope you’ll at least hear me out.


Bart Simpson once said, “Libya is a land of contrasts.” 

The same is true of Russia. On the one hand, the Russian Orthodox Church has built 30,000 churches in the last ten years. On the other, Russia’s abortion rate in 2017 was 480 per 1,000 live births. (For comparison, it’s about 200 per 1,000 here in the United States.) 

So, is this rank hypocrisy? The Western media would say, “Absolutely, yes.” But it’s more complicated than that.

Somehow, Americans have already forgotten that Russians lived under a regime of brutal state atheism for the better part of a century, ending in the mid-’80s. Fr. Mikel Hill observes that “by even conservative reports, more than 12 million Orthodox Christians were killed for their faith under the Soviets; in 1937 alone, 85,300 Orthodox clergy were shot.” Imagine if China conquered the United States and, simply to make a point, eradicated the whole population of Los Angeles. That’s about 12 million souls. The same number of Christians (at least!) were murdered by the Soviets. 

The church in Russia today is descended from those men and women who persevered in the faith through a century of vicious persecution. And apparently it is true: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. In the last thirty years, Orthodoxy has seen exponential growth. According to Pew, “Between 1991 and 2008, the share of Russian adults identifying as Orthodox Christian rose from 31 percent to 72 percent.”

So, in this sense, there are really two Russias: (1) the de-Christianized and (2) the re-Christianizing. The de-Christianized Russia, the part that succumbed to Soviet state atheism, is responsible for her astronomically high abortion rates. The re-Christianizing Russia is responsible for her reidentification with Orthodoxy and the historic boom in church construction.

To be sure, there’s no clear distinction between the two Russias. They coexist (albeit uneasily) within regions, cities, families, even individual Russians. No doubt there are Putin-loving Orthodox nationalists who have had two or three abortions—or keep a few mistresses, or bribe local oligarchs, or blow up primary schools in Kiev. Russia is not a Christian utopia; I hope that won’t come as too much of a shock for most of you.

Nor am I saying that Russia will become a Christian paradise. That is up to the Russian people, and God, if we’re getting technical. But, again, Westerners tend to forget that Russia is still transitioning out of Communism. For Russia’s “baby boomers”—the generation that currently dominates her political, economic, and cultural institutions—the Soviet Union is a living memory.

But while her national identity is in flux, one trend has clearly emerged: Most Russians believe her future lies with Orthodoxy, not Bolshevism. 

Even the Communist Party of the Russian Federation sees the writing on the wall. Consider the strange case of Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the CPRF. A Stalinist hardliner, he rose to prominence as a hardline opponent of Gorbachev’s glasnost (“openness”), which effectively brought an end to the Cold War—and, before long, the USSR itself. Yet now even Zyuganov pays lip service to Russia’s traditional faith. “It is a holy duty of Communists and the Orthodox Church to unite,” he said in 2012

This, dear reader, is why our elite hates Russia—and why it has always hated Russia. 

Here in the West, our conventional wisdom holds that the church is on its last legs. Christians will be a minority by 2070. “Christian values” are an anachronism. We are on the cusp of a new age: an age of freedom, of tolerance, of unbelief. This is the end of history.

Russia stands as a living rebuke to this narrative. Traditional, supernatural faith is rebounding. Millions of ordinary Russians are flocking to the Orthodox faith. Western media sees craven plutocrats like Putin cozying up to the patriarch of Moscow and says, “The Russian Church is enthralled by the Kremlin.” And, believe me, I’m no fan of Kirill’s. 

Yet they never seem to ask why Russia’s president is so desperate for his support. No one asks why such a mercenary politician would bother trying to crack down on “gay propaganda” or curb his country’s abortion rate. No, it’s not because he is the savior of the Christian church. It is not because Putin is a man of high principles. It may be because he is a man of no principles, who will do anything to stay in power. And like Zyuganov, he knows that Russians want their country to be Christian again. 

For whatever it is worth, I strongly suspect that Russia will succumb to the Franco effect. By cynically allying itself with Putin, the Russian Church will (once again) discredit herself in the eyes of many Russians. “Why Kirill, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for the Kremlin?” 

No patriarch in the last hundred years has been able to refuse that bargain. Alas. So, I would not be surprised to find that adherence to Orthodoxy drops off a bit over the next few years. 

Nevertheless, the resurrection of the Russian Church is nothing short of a miracle. And our Western elites will do everything in their power to keep us from witnessing that miracle.

That is why they have been on the war path against Putin for the last twenty years. It is why Washington has been trying to “infiltrate and overturn the Russian political system” since at least 2012, even before the dispute over Donetsk and Luhansk began. It is why the United States has chosen to depict Ukraine as a passive victim of Russian aggression, despite prior U.N. reports claiming that the Ukrainian armed were attempting to systematically cleanse the region of Russians—and summarily executed officers who objected to the government’s genocidal policy.

Now, those reports also clearly state that Russian-backed separatists also committed atrocities in Eastern Ukraine. I don’t want to elide that fact. And yet every Western government (including our own) has adopted the official line that, in February 2022—without any prior cause or warning—the Russian army invaded Ukraine. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has received a hero’s welcome in Paris, London, and especially Washington. 

No Western politician has questioned Zelensky’s victim-status. No Western media outlets have challenged the pro-Ukrainian narrative. No Western general has questioned the dangers of Ukrainian reprisals in Donetsk, Luhansk, or Crimea.

The question remains, though: Why did Russia invade Ukraine? Regular readers of The American Conservative already know, but, who hath ears to hear, let them hear.

The United States has committed itself to expanding NATO to Russia’s borders. NATO, of course, stands for “North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” A naïve onlooker might ask why countries like Bulgaria, Finland, and Poland would be included in such a treaty. The answer is pretty simple: NATO has nothing to do with the North Atlantic. It is an anti-Russian military alliance. 

Russia knew (or, rather, knows) that Ukraine has been courting both the European Union and NATO. Kiev wants to unite itself—politically, economically, and militarily—to the West. That would mean the United States has a right to place more troops and artillery on Russia’s border. Russia didn’t like that, and so it lashed out.

But the question is why does the United States want to put troops and artillery on Russia’s border? Why has it maintained—and, indeed, expanded—this anti-Russian alliance, even though its original objective (i.e., the destruction of the Soviet Union) has been accomplished? 

Our leaders have been clear on that point. To quote Richard Moore, the current chief of MI6: “With the tragedy and destruction unfolding so distressingly in Ukraine, we should remember the values and hard-won freedoms that distinguish us from Putin, none more than LGBT+ rights.” 

This isn’t Kremlin disinformation. These are the words coming from the horse’s mouth. We hate Russia because they are mean to the gays. 

Deacon Nicholas Kotar, the great novelist and translator, gave a wider view

What the Russian government is doing is setting a red line to the spread of NGO-style liberal democracy. And Ukraine, unfortunately, has been a buffer zone, and a kind of test-case, for the spread, not of a political system, but of a system of values, that is espoused by the elites only....The problem is that with all these colored revolutions, no matter how you look at it, the thing that comes in together with the money is an insistence, unfortunately, on the adoption of the Western liberal cultural milieu. It happened in Georgia, it happened in Ukraine, it happened everywhere.

Russia is presenting herself as the last remnant of Christendom. I am not sure she really understands what Christendom means, so let me say it one last time: I am not saying that Putin is a new Constantine or Charlemagne. I am not saying that Christians must look to Moscow as the Third Rome. I am not even sure that Russia’s Christian renaissance will bear lasting fruit.

But I am saying that there is a Christian renaissance underway in Russia, which is nothing short of a miracle. In that sense, Russia’s story ought to give Christians and conservatives everywhere hope. And that is why our elites hate her. 

Ultimately, this isn’t about Russia. It’s not even about Ukraine. It’s about us. Western elites want us to believe that the triumph of “NGO-style liberal democracy” is inevitable everywhere. But it’s not. Russia is living proof of that. Her story should give us hope. But that is the very last thing our ruling class wants us to have.