Vladimir Putin Is No Christian Hero

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: This misplaced esteem speaks volumes about where the U.S. is as a country right now.

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik, Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to talk show host Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 6, 2024.
In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik, Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to talk show host Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 6, 2024. (photo: Gavriil Grigorov / Getty)

One of the more striking aspects about Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with Vladimir Putin was that so many viewers came away with a favorable impression of the Russian autocrat.

Putin, who in recent days has made fresh threats toward NATO, including allusions to nuclear weapons, may rank among the most despised (and feared) men in the world, but there’s no question he has his admirers, even here in the U.S. This misplaced esteem speaks volumes about where we are as a country right now.

From Putin’s perspective, the sit-down with Carlson, which has garnered more than 200 million views on Carlson’s X (formerly Twitter) platform, was an unqualified success. The timing of the interview, for starters, coincided with fresh questions about President Joe Biden’s obvious cognitive decline. By comparison, Putin demonstrated impressive command of Russian history, shared insider details about aborted peace talks in Ukraine, and had obviously done his homework on Carlson, mentioning his degree in history and his interest in working for the CIA.

The litany of grievances against NATO that Putin recited also dovetailed conveniently with Donald Trump’s recent barbs about the alliance. And on top of all this, the interview landed just when Washington was locked in a pitched battle over continued U.S. war support for Ukraine, which already totals $75 billion.

In short, for a busy tyrant like Putin, the two hours he spent talking with Carlson was time well spent. The Kremlin (and KGB) couldn’t have asked for more.

This brings us to the matter of Putin’s American fan club.

For some conservatives, Putin merits praise for being one of the few political leaders on the world stage today willing to push back on radical LGBTQ ideology, which often seems like a higher priority for Western leaders these days than democracy or capitalism. And it’s true that over the course of his nearly quarter-century in power (including four years as “prime minister”) he has instituted several pro-life, pro-family policies. These are mostly aimed at reversing Russia’s alarmingly low birthrate, which is in part driven by the fact that Russia continued to have one of the highest abortion rates in the world. Much like what we saw in Carlson’s interview, however, that’s only part of the truth.

While Putin has styled himself as a devout Russian Orthodox believer and a “defender of the faith,” the fuller truth paints a much more disturbing picture of a ruthless leader who has co-opted his church to advance his statist dream of resurrecting “Mother Russia” as an imperial power.

As a former KGB man, he recognized when the Soviet Union collapsed (an event he considers one of the 20th century’s great tragedies) that something unifying had to fill the void created by the demise of atheistic communist ideology. Sadly, the Russian Orthodox Church, which in the Soviet era was at first brutally persecuted and then thoroughly infiltrated, now serves that purpose.

Putin may be a friend to the Russian Orthodox Church while it remains loyal to him, but not to other faiths.

Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and other religious minorities face fines for handing out literature outside their places of worship. They can be more severely punished under vaguely worded laws against terrorism and extremism.

It’s for good reason that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) cites Russia as one of 17 nations on its current list of recommended “Countries of Particular Concern” “for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Regrettably, Russian Orthodox leaders have remained silent in the face of this repression, just as they’ve been about Russia’s relentless dismantling of religious freedom and other human rights in Ukraine.

Indeed, Patriarch Kirill, the first head of the Russian Orthodox Church to be elected after the fall of the Soviet Union, is Putin’s spiritual adviser and one of his most powerful allies. He has hailed Putin as “a miracle from God.” He has also imbued the war in Ukraine with a twisted “metaphysical significance,” framing it as a noble crusade to reclaim sacred territory and safeguard ethnic Russians from the West’s moral degeneracy.

As Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States, recently observed, not one of the approximately 400 Russian Orthodox Church bishops in Russia has spoken out against the war.

By feeding into the historically pervasive narrative that religion can be manipulated for political ends, Putin stands diametrically opposed to the larger truth, which we espouse as Catholics, that the state exists to serve its people, not the other way around.

So while Vladimir Putin may have come across in the Carlson interview as a shrewd and formidable figure who can proudly boast of Moscow’s cosmopolitan character and beautiful, clean metro, we shouldn’t be deceived into viewing him as some sort of heroic champion of Christian civilization.

He is a dictator in a long line of Russian tyrants. And as the immense suffering in Ukraine demonstrates, he’s willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to achieve his aims, including his own people and their future.

All of this underscores the need for us to continue to pray for our own country and for peace in Ukraine.

May God bless you!