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The Price Of Influence

Patriarch Kirill and President Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin.
Patriarch Kirill and President Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin.
What motivated United Russia and Patriarch Kirill I to reach an agreement giving the Russian Orthodox Church an unprecedented voice in the legislative work of the State Duma?

Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center tackles the issue in today's issue of "Nezavisimaya Gazeta."

He begins by asking why the ruling party would want to enter into such an arrangement:

Why? Because United Russia desperately lacks something despite its triumphs in elections throughout the country and the overwhelming majority in the lower house of the parliament. And what does it lack? It lacks society's respect. It lacks recognition as a genuine political party and not just an organization founded and coddled by the Kremlin.

Because the crisis will inevitably require unpopular decisions that will be endorsed (blessed) by the Patriarch as a means to temper society's discontent.

Because the crisis might foment social unrest and it will certainly benefit the ruling party to have such a formidable an ally.

And last but not the least, because United Russia would like to share responsibility for its actions and transform the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia into Vladimir Gundayev, supporter of the ruling party ever ready with religious authorization.

Vladimir Gundayev, it should be noted, is Patriarch Kirill's birth name.

So what's in the deal for the Kirill?

Such an appeal cannot help being flattering. The Patriarch climbed the political mountain and nearly reached the very top. But how are the believers expected to regard their spiritual authority whose influence is higher than that of Moscow Mayor [Yury] Luzhkov but less than that of [Vladislav] Surkov from the Presidential Administration?

But Malashenko writes that the move carries risks for the patriarch and the church:

Involvement with mundane secular affairs will erode the respect the Patriarch's office commands. The Russian Orthodox Church will soon be regarded as a state structure which is hardly an asset...

The so called duumvirate may eventually evolve into a triumvirate. A grandiose leap from the standpoint of democracy, of course, but common sense is what it will be definitely lacking.

Gundayev is a gifted man. As the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, he is extremely popular. Why waste this popularity?

As I wrote in my last post, Kirill clearly wants to influence legislation on issues like sex education. According to media reports, the patriarch was the one who initiated the meeting with United Russia that led to their informal arrangement. As a result, the church just got an even bigger voice in the affairs of state than it already had. But that voice comes with a price.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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