Amid the flurry of news surrounding Sochi and Ukraine, one overlooked diplomatic spat between Russia and the US has been particularly revealing.
When asked about members of Pussy Riot meeting with the US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin responded with sarcastic incredulity that Power didn’t join the band.
“I would expect her to invite them to perform at the National Cathedral in Washington,” he said. “Maybe they could arrange a world tour for them, you know.”
“St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, then maybe in Mecca in Saudi Arabia, ending up with a gala concert at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. So if Ambassador Power fell short I would be disappointed,” Churkin said.
The crime Pussy Riot was charged with was “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” because of their choice of a Russian cathedral as a venue for their protest.
This point is often overlooked in the West. Vladimir Putin’s obviously corruption doesn’t detract from what may well be a very sincere desire to ‘defend’ a traditional order against what he sees as an encroaching Western amorality. It is easy for the West to dismiss Putin’s hard line as an excuse to show he is a tough guy. But a regime can crack down anyone. There is a reason why Russia’s leader wants defend a religion and a church.
To date, I don’t see the emerging great power struggle as a battle of beliefs. But if, over time, such an ideological war emerges, this defense of traditional decency may well be one of the strains we would likely see. It’s easy to imagine how a desire to defend an older order could be a common cause among anti-Western nations.