Russia’s 'Orthodox' Foreign Policy: The Growing Influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Shaping Russia’s Policies Abroad

98 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2010 Last revised: 20 Jan 2012

See all articles by Robert C. Blitt

Robert C. Blitt

University of Tennessee College of Law

Date Written: May 2011


The government of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) - the country’s predominant religious group - recently underwent back-to-back changes in each institution’s respective leadership. This coincidence of timing has afforded a unique opportunity to reexamine the status of constitutional secularism and church-state relations in the Russian Federation.

In the short space of two years, the partnership of President Dmitri Medvedev and Patriarch Kirill has further entrenched a discriminatory three-tiered status system for religious groups and - perhaps more significantly - has generated multiple new channels of influence for the ROC in Russian social and political life, including handing the Church its long-coveted prizes of access to the public education system and the military. While these developments represent a significant blow to constitutional secularism in Russia, they do not tell the entire story.

As the following article demonstrates, the ROC’s influence is increasingly evident beyond the realm of domestic policies. The Patriarch today enjoys the ear of Russia’s Foreign Ministry and plays a key role in both formulating and advancing Russian interests abroad. Consequently, the breakdown in the constitutional principle of secularism so evident in the domestic realm has spilled over into Russia’s foreign policy, leading to the bizarre reality whereby a secular state is advocating on behalf of Orthodoxy and traditional values abroad.

By assessing the various points of cooperative overlap and commonality shared by the ROC and Russian government on this plane, this article posits that the practice of mutual reinforcement in foreign policy objectives as between the ROC and government of Russia not only undermines respect for the Russian constitution, but actually risks exacerbating already adverse domestic conditions related to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, as well as destabilizing international consensus concerning universal human rights and related norms.

Keywords: putin, medvedev, kirill, russian orthodox church, united nations, traditional values, human rights, moscow patriarchate, russkiy mir, lavrov, spiritual security, consultative council on religions, freedom of religion, human rights council, defamation, secular, constitution, separation, church-state

JEL Classification: P30, P33, K33, K30, N40, K42

Suggested Citation

Blitt, Robert C., Russia’s 'Orthodox' Foreign Policy: The Growing Influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Shaping Russia’s Policies Abroad (May 2011). University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 363-460, 2011, University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 131, Available at SSRN: or

Robert C. Blitt (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States


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