WARNING : EXTREMELY LONG RANT / HISTORICAL ANALYSIS. Please forgive me but I am 1) of Russian descent ; 2) an history buff. This extremely long rant was first published on Mark Shea blog, which linked to this article.
Well actually I would argue that Putin has lots in common with other political leaders like Constantine and Napoleon Bonaparte, which include both good and bad (and ugly) characteristics.
Constantine, Napoleon and Putin are all three very intelligent and skillfull politicians who managed to satisfy their enormous hunger for power and rose to top political powers by being smarter, more ruthless, more unforgiving and more coldly calculating than everyone else, in a time and place (late Roman Empire ; post-revolutionary France ; post-Soviet meltdown Russia) where fighting for power meant having a very good chance of waking up dead, showing both bravery and borderline psychopathy.
Constantine, Napoleon and Putin all did enormous and undeniable good for their respective countries : Constantine put an end to decades of civil wars (even though he actually was partially responsible for said civil wars…) and restored order, stability and economic progress ; Napoleon put an end to 10 years of Revolutionary madness / civil war (even though he actually willingly served under said crazy revolutionary regimes…) and restored order, stability and economic progress ; Putin put an end to 8 years of corruption and misery brought about by crazy unrestrained capitalism following 70 years of crazy communism (even though he actually willingly served under said crazy communist regime…) and (you guessed it) restored order, stability and economic progress.
As a result, all three gained enormous popularity among their people : Napoleon was the most popular French leader ever for about half of his time in power and Putin is still extremely popular among the Russian people (maybe he wouldn’t get the 65% of the votes he get in elections, if said elections were truly free and democratic but a) he would get close to those 65% and b) the Russian people actually dislike democracy, which they associate with the 8 years of crazy unrestrained capitalism and corruption (the main political forces in Russia are : Putin’s Party ; the Communist Party ; the Right-wing ultra-nationalist Party ; the pro-Western, pro-democracy Party is supported by barely 1% of the population).
Moreover, all three did undeniable good for Christianity. Constantine put a definitive end to persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and de facto favored evangelization. Napoleon put an end to the persecution of French Catholics ; Pope Pius VII, recognizing that Napoleon was (at the time) a force for good, signed a Concordat with him, establishing new peaceful relations between the Church and the French government, and even came to Paris in 1804 to bless his crowning as Emperor of the French. Putin favors the Russian Orthodox Church and protects it against its ennemy (crazy femi-nazies endorsed by the West,...).
OF COURSE, all three of them favored Christianity mainly because they saw political interest in it, not primarily because of their saintly love for Christ and His Church : Constantine was mainly looking for civil peace and unity : though he may have had some sincere Christian sentiments, he was not a saint and was baptized (on his deathbed) as a heretical Arian, not an orthodox Christian. Napoleon wanted national reconciliation and French bishops at his disposal, himself being a typical 18th-19th century “intellectual” with no religious conviction, who actually found Islam more appealing than Christianity. Putin being still alive I won’t venture trying to read his soul (which only God may judge) but I will venture that the promise of giving his people a reason to live and hope AND having the support of the Russian Orthodox Church might be quite appealing to him from a political standpoint :). BUT the fact remains that they did good for the Christians of their country, both for good and bad reasons.
Finally, all three have been, at least for a time, a force for good for the world. Constantine restored order for the Empire. Napoleon gave long-lasting efficient institutions to France and half of Europe. And Putin, to give only one example, is presently dissuading the US and its European vassals from invading Syria to assassinate Bachar El-Assad and support Al Quaeda and other Radical Muslim groups. Without Putin, the US would have already intervened in Syria, which would have led to a) the explosion of Syria along ethnic and religious lines ; b) power being taken over by radical muslims (just like in Egypt, Lybia and Tunisia) ; c) the extermination or exile of every single Syrian Christians and other minority groups (shi’ite muslims, alaouite muslims, druzes,...).
In conclusion :
Are (or were) Constantine, Napoleon and Putin saints ? Of course, not.
Are (or were) Constantine, Napoleon and Putin complex characters and also our brothers in Christ through baptism who we could try not to dismiss in one sentence as blood-thirsty monsters ? Um yeah probably.
Are (or were) they, at least at some point and in some measure, a force for good for Christianity and the world ? Undeniably yes.
Are (or were) they in other regards ruthless politicians who would not hesitate becoming a force for evil if it suited their political goals ? Of course, yes.
So I would argue that we should neither follow Putin blindly, nor worship him but also recognize that he can be a force for good, even if it is for the wrong reasons.
If you read that from beginning to end, you’ve wasted 10 minutes and thank you ;) !