No Impediments: On the Blossoming Relationship between Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church

Everyone is saying that Putin has 'dumped' Medvedev, and commenting on the fact that the President's young and hitherto sprightly erstwhile favourite is nowadays looking rather forlorn, lost and helpless. Some say the Young Liberal is waiting to be summoned back into the Arch-Conservative’s embrace. While this is unlikely, there are those who percipiently point out that Putin is also looking lonely these days. Cohabitation with Medvedev in the tandem in some ways seemed to do him good; it also changed him. The National Leader no longer seems quite so cut out for lofty political solitude. He needs a new partner and there are a lot of signs that he has already gone some way to finding one. 

Who, on the dating scene of Russian politics, might he choose? Well, there is always Sechin. This grumpy old flame of Putin’s seems to have been around forever. Some people say their relationship was never really broken off, even during the fling with Medvedev. But for Putin there is clearly something not satisfying about Sechin. For one thing, Sechin is not really the kind of person you can take out in some social circles (or perhaps – when the two were younger, to be sure - even home to your mother). Although he has his own special charm (for Putin), and they go back a long way, Sechin it has to be said is rather clumsy and bearlike. And his past is tainted: there are all those allegations that somehow, somewhere, he has been involved in skulduggery. So he is likely to remain just that, an old flame on the back burner. Others have speculated that Putin couldn’t do better than the young – but not so very young - Aleksei Kudrin. Kudrin is a man who you would never be ashamed of going out with. He is so educated and clever. On the downside he might be a bit nerdy. This of course would give Putin the opportunity to put him down and make fun of him in public - always useful in a relationship. But Kudrin’s cleverness really might be too much for Putin, and we know Putin doesn’t like people who are too clever (some say this was the problem with Khodorkovsky). In any case, a lot of Putin’s old friends don’t much like Kudrin. So that really is a no-goer.

The real candidate for Putin’s affections can easily be spotted. For one thing, we just have to look at Putin’s recent meandering speeches and commentaries on ethics and morality, history and culture. Spouting these words, surrounded on the TV screen by nonentities and sycophants, we can see that he is really just uttering a call for help: he is crying out for someone who can give him what he needs. For some, the shared love of wrist watches was enough to draw attention to the new special one in Putin’s life. For others, it took the remarkable confession – a veritable love song - when Patriarch Kirill, in what might have been Putin’s direst pre-election hour, called the then-prime minister a ‘Miracle’. That is certainly a good chat-up line. And we can see that Putin has been responding readily and even with increasing passion – some would say violence – ever since. Putin’s response most recently has effervesced into the slapping of the Pussy Riot women into jail and the promised new law against ‘insulting the feelings of believers’. How could the Patriarch resist?

Why, you might ask, given this clear evidence of mutual affinity – nay, passion - are they still keeping their distance, one from the other? But the lesson we learn from life is that, even for the young, the course of true love will never run smooth. Still more, when age and associated propriety are to be reckoned with. We see that Patriarch Kirill has his own ties and responsibilities, and it would be foolish to think he could give all this up and simply move in, let's say, as prime minister - any more than Putin could abandon the presidency to run off and join the Church. And neither side would want this. As in any bonding between individuals of the mature kind, it is precisely what each brings to the relationship that makes the one attractive to the other. Patriarch Kirill has his celebrity status as head of the Church and as a weighty pronouncer on morals and ethics – and politics – not to say religion. Without any of this, who would he be? And Putin, for his part, can do so much for Kirill and his Church, having, as he does, his controlling hands on all the levers of political power. And again, Kirill’s ties and responsibilities only serve to make him more desirable for Putin. After all, the Patriarch cannot even think of competing with the President in politics. And we know that this is so important for Putin, who always wants to be on top. And here, then, we have the basis on which the new ‘presidential’ relationship is being forged. It may turn out to be an ideal marriage. I can’t for the life of me see any impediments.