Staunton, September 28 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s ouster of longtime Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is a stinging defeat for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church which enjoyed close ties to the mayor and actively supported him even when the Kremlin sent clear signals that he was on his way out, according to one analyst.
And at the same time, Luzhkov’s departure removes from the scene one of the most consistent advocates of a neo-imperial policy for the Russian Federation, as another Moscow commentator points out, as well as forcing from office the author of the notorious October 1993 decree expelling from the Russian capital “persons of Caucasus nationality.”
While neither religion nor nationality issues probably played a major role in Luzhkov’s fall from grace, both are certainly going to be affected given Luzhkov’s prominence and the likelihood that any successor will adopt a different or at least lower profile role on such issues especially beyond the ring road.
Commenting on Luzhkov’s ouster today for the Portal-Credo.ru site, Aleksandr Soldatov, the editor of Agentura.ru, argues that as a result, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has lost a champion and a friend whom the senior hierarchs did everything they could to lobby for right up to the end (www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=comment&id=1787).
Among the Orthodox hierarchs, Soldatov notes, Luzhkov was known as the man who arranged for rebuilding Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, currently de facto the main church of the Russian Orthodox Church and a place where Patriarch Kirill routinely conducts services.
The Moscow Patriarch, long part of “the Putin command,” behaved “much more actively” in support of Luzhkov “than the National Leader” when the Moscow mayor was being attacked. Last week, for example, Patriarch Kirill sent birthday greetings to Luzhkov in which he praised his services to the Church and to the country.
“If the lines of this letter” are compared with the Kremlin attacks, Soldatov continues, they might have appeared as “direct compromat” on the Patriarch. But the Church “did not limit itself” to this letter. It even offered “a special prayer” for Luzhkov on his birthday and succeeded in having that reported by Kremlin-controlled news agencies on September 21.
In Soldatov’s view, “the Moscow Patriarchate really owes a great deal to [Luzhkov],” not only for his support in building the cathedral in which Kirill is so pleased, unlike his predecessor Aleksii II who found it somehow not that “comfortable” but also for his support of the Church’s extensive economic and construction activities.
Many Orthodox Christians have been furious at Luzhkov for his destruction of the historic face of Moscow, Soldatov continues. “But the Church [as an organization] is … not a society of amateur architects or aesthetes.” Instead, it is “a completely pragmatic organization,” always looking after its own interests.
In short, the Moscow Patriarchate, if not the Russian Orthodox Church as a body of believers was “completely happy with Luzhkov. They understood the values and principles of each other,” even though Luzhkov himself was not that religious: The now ex-mayor was baptized only when the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was built.
That concord was reflected in Luzhkov’s farewell gift to the Church, a promise to build over the next year 200 new Orthodox churches, bringing the total number of Orthodox facilities in the Russian capital to more than 800. But now there is a question over this construction project, all the more so given the Muslim push for opening a fifth mosque there.
“It is obvious,” Soldatov concludes, “that in struggling for his position, Yuri Luzhkov attempted to make use of the Church as a resource. And he got it. Perhaps not so clearly ad demonstrably as he might have liked but completely clearly and unambiguously. And it is not Luzhkov’s fault that under present conditions this resource proved too small to save him.”
Meanwhile, in another commentary, Aleksandr Baunov discusses the role that Luzhkov played in promoting a particular neo-imperial policy by the Russian government in large measure because he ensured that Moscow had “its own foreign policy,” one sometimes at odds with that of the foreign ministry (slon.ru/blogs/baunov/post/466312/).
As Baunov says, Luzhkov routinely maintained official and unofficial ties with people across the former Soviet space, and he advocated positions which the commentator who clearly approves them said showed that he “thought with the scope of a Winston Churchill, a Metternich or a Prince Gorchakov.”
Luzhkov was perhaps best known for his consistent support of the idea that Crimea should belong not to Ukraine but to the Russian Federation and his active promotion of the idea of the construction of a bridge from Krasnodar kray to Kerch in order to link those two territories closer together.
But that was far from the only example of Luzhkov’s line in this area. As early as 2006, he said that Moscow “would construct its relations with Abkhazia as with an independent state” and as early as 2004, he supported Adjaria and its leader Aslan Abashidze against Tbilisi’s blockade.
The now ex-mayor also maintained close relations with Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka even when the Minsk leader was on the outs with the Russian Federation, and Luzhkov backed the idea of diverting Siberian rivers to the south in order to “economically and politically attach to Russia its former Central Asian colonies.”
Baunov provides other examples of Luzhkov’s personal policies, often dismissed as populist but in fact having an impact on Russia’s approach, including in Central Asia and the Caucasus, opposition to the World Trade Organization, and support for ethnic Russian communities outside of the Russian Federation.
When Luzhkov dealt with officials in Western countries, Baunov says, he was treated as the mayor of a capital city. “But in the former union republics and satellites, Luzhkov conducted a relatively independent post-imperial and neo-colonial policy,” something that gained him support from many in these places, even as it generated criticism closer to home.