College of Law Faculty Scholarship

Whither Secular Bear: The Russian Orthodox Church’s Strengthening Influence on Russia's Domestic and Foreign Policy

Source Publication (e.g., journal title)

Fides Et Libertas: The Journal of the International Religious Liberty Association, p. 89, 2011

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2011


As 2012 presidential elections in Russia draw near, evidence points to a collapse in that country’s constitutional obligation of secularism and state-church separation. Although early signs of this phenomenon can be traced back to the Yeltsin era, the Putin and Medvedev presidencies have dealt a fatal blow to secular state policy manifested both at home and abroad, as well as to Russia’s constitutional human rights principles including nondiscrimination and equality of religious beliefs.

The first part of this article argues that leadership changes in the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) have triggered an unprecedented deepening of state-ROC ties manifested by a number of key domestic “breakthroughs” for the Church, including bestowing its long-coveted prizes of access to the public education system and the military.

But this is only half the story. In addition to encroachment on domestic state policy, the second part of this article illustrates that the ROC has been actively participating in shaping and executing Russia's foreign policy not only in the “near abroad” specifically, but more generally across the European continent and beyond. By welcoming this exclusive ROC function, the government has enabled a paradoxical situation whereby a secular state openly advocates on behalf of Orthodoxy and “traditional” values abroad. This ensuing relationship not only generates deleterious implications for the content of international human rights law, but also serves to reinforce the already deficient human rights situation within Russia, thus further widening the rift between constitutional promise and government practice.