The Russian Orthodox Church, which has been regaining influence in Russian society since the fall of the Soviet Union, has signaled it support for the tens of thousands who have been protesting the results of this month’s parliamentary elections. The elections, which returned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party to power, are widely seen as fraudulent. This past weekend, a prominent Church spokesman, Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, called on the government to address the allegations of fraud and said that the Church itself would be prepared to question those responsible. His comments, similar to those of another prominent priest who recently referred to government officials as “Pharisees” who tolerate lies and hypocrisy, are seen as significant because the Church has often supported Putin in the past. It is not clear that the criticism signals a break with Putin, though; some analysts believe Fr. Chaplin’s comments are meant to co-opt the protests before they get out of hand. Nor should one view the Church as a force for liberalism. Fr. Chaplin also recently criticized the Western Christian tradition for separating religion from public life.

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