Russian History


Religion and Foreign Policy

In the 1990s, there have been indications that religious considerations can influence certain areas of Russian foreign policy, as they have in the past. Relations with the newly independent Muslim states of Central Asia are a case in point. In all five republics of that region, the Russian government has strongly supported secular, autocratic Islamic leaders whose hold on power is justified in part by an ostensible threat of Muslim political activism. However, only in Tajikistan has a faction with any sort of connection to Islamic groups attempted to take power. There, a nominally secular Islamic party has played a central role in a prolonged guerrilla war against the Russian-supported regime, with assistance from Afghan forces.

Beginning in 1992, the conflict between Muslims and Orthodox Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina has tested the deeply ingrained tradition within the Orthodox Church of protecting coreligionists in the Middle East, the Balkans, and elsewhere beyond Russia's borders (see Central Europe, ch. 8). Russia's former minister of foreign affairs, Andrey Kozyrev, cautioned against making the Orthodox religion a determinant of Russian foreign policy, lest such a policy promote a split in Russia itself between Orthodox and Muslim believers. Nevertheless, nationalist sentiment in Russia caused the Yeltsin government to limit its participation in international sanctions and military actions against Serbia.