Time explained why Putin needs priests. Its Moscow Simon Schuster reports from Moscow in a dispatch entitled "Putin's Secret Weapon: The Orthodox Faithful":
"A Russian president whose popularity is declining needs a 'national idea' to rationalize his rule. And it's in the traditions of the pre-Soviet church-state relationship that he hopes to find it. Putin's effort to create an ideological glue to secure his political survival. The emergence of a progressive middle class has manifested itself through street protests against his rule, and this month, his popularity ratings were at their lowest in a decade. Sociologists report that Putin no longer has an energetic base of support, relying instead on an apathetic mass of voters who lack viable alternatives.
"He practically has no more motivated fans, no more enthusiasts," says Mikhail Dmitriev, president of the Center for Strategic Research, which studies public opinion through nationwide focus groups. "But there are a great many people who react to him extremely badly, who renounce him, and that group is growing fast".
Never in the history of Russia has a politician been able to reverse this process, says Dmitriev, who helped write Putin's first presidential campaign platform in 2000, when he still had plenty of enthusiasts. "At this point, Putin's supporters have ceased to ensure the stability of the regime. There are now only neutral voters holding it up, and they are politically lazy. They will not fight for him".
The last bastion of Putin diehards is to be found among the believers of the Orthodox Church, which has a long tradition of bestowing the mandate of heaven on whoever happens to be in charge. Bobrov, the activist who worked with Ageyeva outside the courthouse, called it one of the central dogmas of the church: "All power comes from God", said Bobrov, pulling a prayer book from his pocket. "Putin understands that Christ is the only truth".
Ageyeva was slightly more pragmatic. When the street demonstrations broke out against Putin last winter, she and her friends attended the counter protests, but not out of some blind belief in Putin.
"We just realized that we do not need a revolution", she said. Her interests lie in advancing the Orthodox faith, and as long as Putin sees Orthodoxy as a national idea, she will continue to support him. "The fact that the state is taking this course is an opportunity for [the church]", she argued. "And we should use that".
For the church and state, the result would be some kind of symbiosis, which may be Putin's only chance of reawakening his tired base.
According to the latest polls, two-thirds of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, although only a small percentage keep the fasts and attend services weekly.
And while its members may not be enough to turn Putin into Vladimir the Great (who "baptized Great Russia" with fire and sword - KC), they will surely help drown out the cries of his detractors. Whether that serves the cause of national unity is, of course, another matter".
Department of Monitoring