How Much Did Orthodox Church Help Revive Russia’s Military and Nuclear Complex?

I have published a review of Dima Adamsky‘s excellent new book on Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy on the Russia Matters site. Here’s a preview.


Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics and Strategy
By Dmitry Adamsky
Stanford University Press, April 2019

“Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy,” an important new book by the Israeli scholar Dmitry Adamsky, explores the critical but highly understudied juncture between religion and the military. Focusing on the role played by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the restoration and development of the Russian nuclear weapons complex in the post-Cold War period, Adamsky highlights the organizational and ideological impact of the church on the gradual remilitarization of Russia over the last three decades. Adamsky has written a highly readable and informative book on a woefully understudied topic, though one that at times reads like a continuous success story for the church and raises many questions. Also, the book would have been strengthened by a more comparative focus, vis-à-vis both the role of other religious faiths in Russia and the experience of other countries.

The main argument comes in three parts. First, the church has played and will continue to play a crucial role in promoting the rebuilding of the Russian military in general and the nuclear weapons complex in particular. The book demonstrates that the church was among the earliest advocates for the nuclear weapons complex, at a time when the military and nuclear agencies were generally unpopular among Russians and neglected by a cash-strapped government. Second, the church has influenced the direction of security thinking among both Russian politicians and military leaders. Finally, church advocacy has resulted in a gradual conflation of national defense and rearmament with holiness and spirituality. The protection of the state and nation through armed force has been portrayed as a holy act that is highly compatible with religious belief and spiritual values.

The book is organized chronologically by decade. The first, labeled the Genesis Decade, follows the collapse of the Soviet Union and is the period during which the church-nuclear nexus was first developed, beginning as a grassroots phenomenon within the nuclear complex that combined with outreach efforts by the ROC. The second decade, labeled the Conversion Decade, features the emergence of a top-down trend that supplemented the bottom-up initiatives of the 1990s. During this period, which coincides with Vladimir Putin’s first 10 years in power, the increased role of religion in Russian society and political life merged with a gradual increase in societal respect for the Russian military to result in the formulation of the “nuclear orthodoxy doctrine.” The Operationalization Decade of the last 10 years, Adamsky argues, has resulted in peak clericalization of the Russian military and Russian foreign policy. During this period, “Orthodoxy became the main pillar of Russian nationalism and the basis of state ideology”; in the military sphere, “religious rituals became tightly interwoven with … combat activities” while “priests have penetrated all levels of command.”


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One thought on “How Much Did Orthodox Church Help Revive Russia’s Military and Nuclear Complex?

  1. In July, 1977 Richard Pipes wrote in Commentary “Why the Soviet Union thinks it Could Win a Nuclear War”“’There is profound erroneousness and harm in the disorienting claims of bourgeois ideologies that there will be no victor in a thermonuclear world war,” thunders an authoritative Soviet publication (Karabanov, Moscow, 1972). . . According to the most recent Soviet census (1970), the USSR had only nine cities with a population of one million or more; the aggregate population of these cities was 20.5 million, or 8.5 per cent of the country’s total.” On January 8, 1979, Deputy National Security Advisor Huntington told the Senate: 35-65% of the USA but 80-90% of the Soviets would survive a massive nuclear exchange (p.31). In 1980, Gray & Payne wrote in Foreign Policy that the USA would only lose 20 million in a nuclear war (p. 27) “Despite a succession of U.S. targeting reviews, Soviet leaders, looking to the mid-1980s, may well anticipate the ability to wage World War III successfully.” (p. 21) In 1987, Kaku and Axelrod wrote “To Win a Nuclear War” In June 30, 2015, Reagan, Rumsfeld and Obama advisor Keith Payne wrote in National Review “The evidence since 2012 is that Putin’s nuclear moves are becoming even more dangerous, including a reported doctrinal innovation that ironically envisions Russia’s first use of nuclear weapons as a form of nuclear “de-escalation” — that is, if Russia uses nuclear weapons in a local conflict, opponents will cease resistance, thus de-escalating the crisis.”

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