The religious roots of Russia’s distrust of the West

There is something in the Russian collective memory that causes Russian distrust of the West. Does this mistrust have religious roots?

This article from our archives was first published on RI in November 2014

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

I wouldn’t completely disagree with some of the points raised in the article “Anti-Western sentiment as the basis of Russian unity”, heavily criticized by another RI contributor, Eric Kraus.

There is a deeper anti-Western sentiment in Russian identity than is implied by the recent rise in anti-Western sentiment among Russians, mainly caused by what is perceived as aggression by the United States and NATO.

<figcaption>St. Alexander Nevsky stopped the absorption of Russia into Catholic Europe and thus saved the Russian Orthodox faith</figcaption>” src=””/><figcaption>Saint Alexander Nevsky stopped the absorption of Russia into Catholic Europe and thus saved the Russian Orthodox faith</figcaption></figure>
<p>So what is one of the main causes of Russia’s historical distrust of the West?</p>
<p>For centuries, the Vatican has attempted to convert Russian Orthodox Christians to Catholicism.  And they have succeeded in doing so with Orthodox Christians in Western Ukraine and parts of the Western Balkans.  Even today, Vatican fanaticism is alive and well.  The Vatican is trying to achieve “ecclesial union with Orthodox Christians”, of course under the primacy of the pope.</p>
<p>Foreign invaders – the Vatican as well as Swedish and Polish forces, Napoleon, Hitler and NATO – were seen as violent symbols of Western civilization.</p>
<p>However, Russian identity is not formed as a historical reaction or reflex to Western expansionism.  By its nature, Russian culture is not anti-Western or based on antagonism towards foreign civilizations or concepts.</p>
<p>Many Russians would say that the Russian identity belongs to a different “code” of civilization as a successor to the great Byzantine tradition and civilization.  This is the reason why the Russian Empire was for centuries considered the Third Rome.  The Orthodox civilization differs from its Western counterpart in terms of values, tradition, religion, etc. </p>
<p>I just read Samuel Huntington <em>Clash of civilizations</em>.  Huntington asserts that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the main source of conflict in the post-Cold War world.  Many would say that is exactly what is happening in today’s world.  Most recent conflicts have religious or cultural causes.  Moreover, the bloody civil wars in the Balkans and now in Ukraine have had a strong religious and civilizational dimension. </p>
<p>Let’s not forget that many American and European Christian conservatives support Putin because of his Christian outlook and pro-family values.  Perhaps they are fed up with their own governments’ blatantly anti-Christian and anti-family approach to social issues?</p>
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