We sometimes need to look at current events with a longer lens. In this case, this is a very high-level overview of religious ideology in Russia. Some of this goes back to the Middle Ages, but it does inform current events. The war in Ukraine is such an example. It’s not just because Kyiv precedes Moscow, but that many Russian views of self are part of religious views going back to the Middle Ages, the age of Muscovy, and the fall of Constantinople. In other words, Russia is the Third Rome, and in this context, its imperial mission is millenarian. It is Manifest Destiny, and it informs some internal policies as well as nationalist ideology.
The invasion of Ukraine is also not just about the control of land and, or more defensible frontiers. In Russian history, invasions from the west is a thorn in her history. At the same time, conquest from the East is a very real bookmark in the Russian psyche. It is national humiliation and a way to understand the present through the lens of the past. This is national humiliation by external forces. The fall of the Soviet Union is the last of these. Ukraine, if you read the nationalist channels on Telegram, is precisely about this: Yes, there is some of that. It’s far more than just that. It’s important to understand just how much of this is about empire, a sense it’s an of self and humiliation, and the Third Rome. All this matters profoundly because Russia sees a lot of this through the lens of manifest destiny, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the empire.
None of this started yesterday or with this war. While Russia took seventy years off from the orthodox mission to spread the good word, it remained manifest destiny in that sense of mission. The Third International can be understood as a secular religion. Marxism, as understood by Russians, can be understood as a secular religion with its own sense of destiny and salvation. It was also millenarian and perhaps a continuation of the Holy Russia model that started a thousand years before. So there is a continuum between the past and the third Rome. So what does this have to do with the war in Ukraine? Just about everything. This is a jihad because, for Russians, this. It’s a holy mission. In the mind of some Russians, living in a world where Russia is defeated is not something some Russians can conceive of.