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Russia’s nuclear weapons and the religious connection

BLESSED BE THY NUCLEAR WEAPONS: THE RISE OF RUSSIAN NUCLEAR ORTHODOXY, War on the Rocks, MICHAEL KOFMAN     June 21  2019 Dmitry Adamsky, Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics, and Strategy (Stanford University Press, 2019).

Russia’s Federal Nuclear Center, the All-Russian Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF), recently placed a somewhat unusual government tender: It is seeking a supplier of religious icons with the images of Saint Seraphim of Sarov and Saint Fedor Ushakov. Meanwhile, a private foundation, backed by President Vladimir Putin and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, has been gathering funds to build a massive temple to the Russian Armed Forces at Patriot Park,. Artisans are crafting a new icon for the temple, while the steps are to be made from melted-down Nazi equipment captured by the Red Army in World War II.

Viewed in isolation, these may seem to be the occasional eccentric habits of a latter-day authoritarian state. However, Dima Adamsky’s new book, Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics, and Strategy, demonstrates convincingly that there are indeed important signs being missed all around us, pointing to a longstanding nexus between the Russian Orthodox Church and the country’s nuclear-military-industrial complex.

Adamsky’s groundbreaking book lays out the largely unstudied history of how a nuclear priesthood emerged in Russia, permeated the units and commands in charge of Russia’s nuclear forces, and became an integral part of the nuclear weapons industry. Starting with the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, through a process Adamsky frames as “genesis, conversion, and operationalization,” the Russian Orthodox Church positioned itself “as one of the main guardians of the state’s nuclear potential and, as such, claims the role of one of the main guarantors of Russian nuclear security.” At first the church partnered with the military, enabling servicemen to fulfill their religious obligations while on duty. In time, religion penetrated more deeply into the military, as Russia’s political elite and religious elite intertwined. Today, the church has entrenched itself at the tactical and operational levels of the Russian nuclear forces. Depending on how one views the role of religion in the context of nuclear forces, that’s either a discomforting or a comforting thought.

Adamsky’s book covers two distinct but equally fascinating processes that have taken place in post-Soviet Russia: the church’s integration into the nuclear-military complex and the political system’s parallel quest to engineer a national idea, lend itself legitimacy, and rebuild the power of the state that crumbled when the Soviet Union collapsed. Russian Orthodoxy is thus a decidedly secular concept, a mechanical replacement part for the many bits of machinery – or in Russian parlance “political technology” – that broke during the nation’s failed attempt at democracy in the 1990s. The church, an institution with ambitions of its own, volunteered to participate in Russia’s time-honored tradition of restoring state power after collapse, and expanding it to dominate society. At its heart, Russian nuclear orthodoxy constitutes the collective belief that to preserve its Orthodox character, Russia must be a nuclear power, and to guarantee its nuclear status, Russia must be genuinely Orthodox………

The emergence of Russia’s religious-nuclear nexus is a classic tale of elite instrumentalism, political alliances of convenience, and earnestly held belief. ……..

Though seemingly a marriage of convenience, the Russian Orthodox Church appears strategic in its efforts to ally with the nuclear complex. Strategic mythmaking lies at the heart of this union. At the tide of communism receded, the church sought to reclaim its place in Russian life. One can imagine the Russian Orthodox Church, like many faiths before it, seeking to appropriate the monuments and temples left behind by the communist system, which worshiped at the altar of technological progress. There was perhaps no stronger symbol of the achievement of the Soviet system than the country’s awesome nuclear arsenal, which underpinned its status as a great power in the international system…….

Though seemingly a marriage of convenience, the Russian Orthodox Church appears strategic in its efforts to ally with the nuclear complex. Strategic mythmaking lies at the heart of this union. At the tide of communism receded, the church sought to reclaim its place in Russian life. One can imagine the Russian Orthodox Church, like many faiths before it, seeking to appropriate the monuments and temples left behind by the communist system, which worshiped at the altar of technological progress. There was perhaps no stronger symbol of the achievement of the Soviet system than the country’s awesome nuclear arsenal, which underpinned its status as a great power in the international system.

……… Perhaps no leader better illustrates the importance of Adamsky’s thesis than Putin himself, who in October 2018 used noticeably religious framing to discuss what would happen if Russia were to be attacked by a nuclear first strike. He proclaimed, “An aggressor should know that vengeance is inevitable, that he will be annihilated. Whereas we would become the victims of their aggression, and as martyrs, will go to heaven – they will just end up dead,” adding to clarify for the audience, “because they won’t even have time to repent.” Given this language, it is perhaps not surprising that according to Adamsky, today “each leg of the nuclear triad has its patron saint,” and “icons appear on the nuclear platforms, while ” aerial, naval, and ground processions of the cross are routine.”

…….. At first glance, Adamsky’s argument that Orthodox priests also function within the Russian nuclear forces at the tactical level – in addition to the ideological – seems to be a bit of overreach. Yet he convincingly depicts the lengths to which the military has gone to accommodate this nuclear priesthood, from field churches for the strategic missile force to underwater temples in ballistic nuclear submarines. More than 40 such temples exist across the Russian Navy alone. …

…… as Adamsky shows, the Russian Orthodox Church – and Russian nuclear orthodoxy – are very much alive, and here to stay.  Michael Kofman is a Senior Research Scientist at CNA Corporation and a Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. Previously he served as program manager at National Defense University. The views expressed here are his own. https://warontherocks.com/2019/06/blessed-be-thy-nuclear-weapons-the-rise-of-russian-nuclear-orthodoxy/

June 24, 2019 - Posted by | politics, Reference, Religion and ethics, Russia

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