The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, participated this Tuesday (19) in the traditional Orthodox feast of the Epiphany, during which the baptism of Jesus Christ by Saint John the Baptist is remembered through dives in the waters frozen lakes.
In what was seen as a provocation, unintentional or not, the leader wore a blue swimsuit, crossing himself three times, once before each dive.
Blue is the color of the underwear of opposition activist Alexei Navalni who was soaked with Novichok poison in August in the city of Tomsk (Siberia).
Or at least that’s what I remember Konstantin Kudriatvtsev, the FSB (Federal Security Service) spy that Navalni recorded during a prank to get details of his own poisoning. “Blue, but I’m not sure,” he told the activist in December.
Navalni returned from medical treatment in Germany on Sunday (17) and was arrested for violating parole on an old fraud conviction. You can face up to 3.5 years in prison. On Tuesday, the Kremlin said it would not listen to Western demands to release it.
Putin’s Immersion is an annual photoshoot, or photo opportunity, for Russian media. He speculates the physical form of the judo fighter who has been in power since August 1999, when he first became Prime Minister.
Judging by comments on Russian social media, the 68-year-old president still lives up to his reputation for taking care of his body.
Putin is an Orthodox Christian who uses the historical link of Church with State, dating back to the time of the Románov Empire (1613-1917). During the Soviet Union (1922-1991) there were all kinds of religious persecutions, since the country was officially an atheist.
But, as Patriarch Cirilo’s spokesperson Vladimir Legoida told Folha, there were accommodations. The activity of priests was sanctioned in most parts of the country, although here and there were sermons written by politicians of the KGB, the predecessor of the FSB secret service.
In any case, the fall of communism caused a revival of the Orthodox Church in the country. With Putin’s rise, this has been accentuated in such a way that critics joke that only Cyril remains to crown the president as tsar, the old-fashioned way.
The institution has benefited from the resumption of tax breaks and generous government incentive programs.
The churches have been rebuilt. Perhaps the most famous is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, a gigantic building on the capital’s river that was destroyed by dictator Josef Stalin in 1931 to make way for a never-before-built Soviet palace.
Rededicated in 2000, it was the scene of the famous 2012 protest of feminist punk group Pussy Riot, which performed a song against Putin near the temple altar and had its members arrested.
Political friction was also seen when the branch of the church in Ukraine declared itself independent from Russia, the largest Christian schism since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
The neighboring country has had a difficult relationship with Moscow since Putin returned Crimea to it in 2014 after a coup overthrew the pro-Kremlin government in Kiev.
Putin has always relied on this symbiosis with Russian history. In addition to orthodoxy, he actively promotes the decisive role of the Soviet Union in the defeat of the Nazis in 1945. While rejecting the return to the communist past, he glorifies and consolidates the achievements of the regime.
The results are better in this attempt than in the promotion of religiosity. A survey carried out in January 2019 by the independent institute Levada shows that only 9% of Russians believe that orthodoxy defines national character, while 53% evoke the history of the country.
Of the 146 million Russians, around 70% say they are members of the Orthodox Church. A significant 10% is Muslim, mainly in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and habits associated with ethnicities of the religion, such as smoking hookah, are common in Moscow cafes.
There is diversity, despite the official rhetoric – Putin inducted faith in God as part of the Russian essence of the Constitution in early 2020.
In several regions of Siberia, shamanism experienced a significant revival after the end of the Soviet Union. And the Republic of Kalmykia, in the south of the country, is considered the only Buddhist territory in Europe.