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The enigma of Vladimir Putin is confounding to the West. A man who claims to be a devout Christian is willing to kill thousands to invade a sovereign nation. In tonight's In-Depth Report, Church Militant's Paul Murano uncovers the mystery of the Putin paradox.
Reporter: "So religion, religion is not the opium of the masses?"
Vladimir Putin: "No, it is not."
Putin was raised by an atheist father and Christian mother. She secretly baptized him, and to this day he wears the baptismal cross she gave him as a baby.
In a 2013 speech, Putin condemned the post-Christian world as:
rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization ... They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships; belief in God with belief in Satan. ... I'm convinced this leads us to degradation and primitivization — to deeper moral crisis.
The same year, Putin signed a law forbidding homosexual and transgender propaganda to minors. He led the effort to ban same-sex unions and adoptions as part of a constitutional referendum. Seventy-eight percent of Russians voted for it.
Back in 1920, Soviet Russia was the world's first country to legalize abortion. Today, Putin has backed initiatives that discourage killing preborn children. In March 2021, Russia's deputy prime minister said abortion in Russia declined 39% since 2016.
Critics point out Putin's religiosity is linked to Russian nationalism — and they wouldn't be wrong. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Putin government are working in tandem to transform Russia to its former glory.
Scholars point out, however, it's not a Soviet-style empire Putin seeks to restore but the empire of Vladimir the Great of the year 988. He Christianized the Slavic people after converting himself. In a post-Soviet era, Putin seeks to be Vladimir II.
Putin's translator: "Ukraine for us is not just a neighboring country. It's an integral part of our own history, culture and spiritual space," he said.
Putin points to the United States as losing its cultural and religious identity.
Putin: "The United States continues to receive more and more immigrants; and as far as I understand, its white Christian population is already outnumbered."
Separating Church from State and respecting freedom of conscience were never a big part of Orthodox heritage, as they were in the West.
Putin: "Russia is an Orthodox Christian nation, and there have always been problems between Orthodox Christianity and the Catholic world."
Vladimir Putin is a peculiar blend of former communist, Russian nationalist, political strongman, military aggressor and Orthodox Christian. His personal faith — or lack thereof — is best left to God's judgment.
The 10% of Ukrainians who are Catholic have much at stake here. As Mariana Karapinka, head of communications for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, stated: "Every time Russia takes over Ukraine, (the) Ukrainian Catholic Church is destroyed."