Vladimir Putin Isn't Catholic — Religion Might Have Played a Role in Ukraine Invasion

Mohit Oberoi, CFA - Author

Apr. 25 2022, Published 9:09 a.m. ET

It has been over two months since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Putin called it “special military operations,” a term still used in Russian media. Along with political and territorial motives, many have attributed religious reasons to Putin's war.

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Putin has found support from some conservatives in Europe as well as in the U.S. Is Putin Catholic and why do some conservatives support his invasion, which has killed thousands of innocent people in Ukraine?

Russia has a rich religious history.

First, we should understand the history of religion and specifically Christianity in Russia and the Soviet Union. Christianity came to the region in the tenth century when Duke Vladimir Krasno Solnyshko, who was the prince of Kyiv, converted to Christianity. He was also known as Vladimir I the Great. He shares his first name with Putin and it's among the reasons some conservatives draw religious analogies to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Christianity is the dominant religion in Russia.

Christianity spread rapidly across the region and for over a century Russia’s orthodox church was the premier religious institution in the country wielding massive powers. As the Soviet Union came into being, it added territories with a Muslim population also. However, religious activity was mostly curtailed in the Soviet Union in line with the Communist ideology. We see something similar in Communist China now.

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Mikhail Gorbachev, who came up with “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” in the 1980s, allowed a lot of religious freedom in the Soviet Union. However, even his policies didn't help prevent the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin’s father was an atheist.

Putin’s father was a member of the Communist Party and was an atheist. Meanwhile, his mother was a devout Christian and baptized him. His father was a conscript in the Soviet Navy and his mother was a factory worker.

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Putin is an Orthodox Christian and not a Catholic.

Putin isn't a Catholic but an Orthodox Christian. In some images, Putin can be seen wearing the cross. The country’s Orthodox Church has been supportive of his invasion of Ukraine.

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Putin listed the “denazification” of Ukraine as one of his objectives for invading Ukraine. The argument can't be farther from the truth. While there are some antisemitic elements in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and he lost family members during the Holocaust.

Pope Francis doesn't support the war in Ukraine.

While Pope Francis has been critical of the human tragedy, he avoided referring to Russia or Putin in his Easter address. He said, “May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged.”

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Why do some conservatives support Putin?

Lauren Witzke, the Delaware GOP's candidate for Senate in 2020, said, "I identify more with Putin's Christian values than I do with Joe Biden." Even in France, Marine Le Pen, the far-right politician who ran against Emanuel Macron, has been somewhat supportive of Putin.

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Hungary’s conservative President Viktor Orban has also supported Putin. Even in India, some of the far-right Hindu nationalists have supported Putin. India has also refrained from voting against Russia at the UN. However, it has got more to do with the country’s over-reliance on military hardware imports from Russia than any religious reasons.

Some conservatives have always fancied military actions against perceived adversaries. Many conservatives also see Putin as some sort of a redeemer of Christian values with some even comparing him to Constantine the Great.


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