Paul Coyer discusses Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church

On June 9, Dr. Paul Coyer, a Forbes foreign policy columnist, delivered an Intermarium Series lecture at The Institute of World Politics entitled “Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.” The lecture, which was sponsored by IWP’s Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies, focused on a recent article by the speaker, entitled “(Un)Holy Alliance: Vladimir Putin, The Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Exceptionalism.”

Dr. Coyer began by noting that it can be easy to sympathize with the Russian Orthodox Church, which claims to preserve tradition and uphold moral values. He then described the complexities and various dimensions of the Church’s involvement with the Russian state.

Orthodoxy is not viewed by Russians in the same way that religion is widely viewed in the West. For example, Dr. Coyer noted, 30 percent of respondents in Russia who self-identified as Orthodox simultaneously also identified as atheists. Dr. Coyer explained that Orthodoxy in post-Soviet Russia is a matter of culture and identity, not necessarily the belief in a Supreme Being.

In addition, the speaker described Vladimir Putin’s attempts to increase the strength of the Russian Orthodox Church, with over 20,000 churches being built from 2000 onwards. He argued that this resurgence in the Church’s strength added to Russian exceptionalism and nationalism. Russia has an advantage in its citizens’ mindsets, in that they are more fiercely dedicated to their homeland. By contrast, a 2015 Pew Research Center poll found that Europeans overwhelmingly would not be willing to fight for their countries.

Dr. Coyer maintained that, even without Putin, the conflict between Russia and the West will not fade away. One of the reasons is that culture, including that of Russian Orthodoxy, is at stake. He asserted that a serious confrontation of the West with Russia is increasingly likely.

Dr. Coyer covers international affairs, with a focus on Eurasia, in his Forbes column. He has spent time in academia, having graduate degrees from Yale University and the London School of Economics. His PhD, from the LSE, was on Sino-American relations and diplomatic history. From 2007-2013, he was a visiting scholar at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and he served as a visiting lecturer on Chinese foreign policy and Sino-American relations at the University of Florence, Italy, in 2011 and 2012. He has lived and worked in several locations around the world, including Shanghai, where he did macro-economic research on China’s development and edited a book on the Shanghai stock exchange that was jointly published by JPMorgan and the South China Morning Post, and in Hong Kong, where he did a brief stint in banking for Deutsche Bank.

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