Letter From the Editors

In the wake of Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, commentators have seized on his parting words to Vladimir Putin: “There are changes happening in the world today, the likes of which the world has not seen for a century.” It seems like everyone is looking for some historical perspective on current events, so let’s look back at what the world of 1923 can tell us about today’s headline news.

Xi himself might be thinking back to 1922, when the party he leads was founded – an unwelcome band of rebels for the decade-old Republic of China, but one with support in Moscow’s Comintern. Now that the CCP is in charge, you can see why he would want to limit foreign ties to “rebel” Taiwan – also known as the Republic of China. Natalia Portyakova informs us that Beijing has coaxed nine countries to repudiate recognition of the island since Tsai Ing-wen became its president. Most recently, Honduras announced it was doing so during Tsai’s visit to North America. According to the Taiwanese foreign minister, “This was not only an attempt to humiliate the authorities of the island . . . but also another warning to the US that flirting with the administration in Taipei is unacceptable.”

Ivan Rodin writes that the leader of Russia’s Communists is also orienting his thinking around a centennial perspective. In a speech by Gennady Zyuganov to party activists, “the Russian president was in effect presented with a demand to integrate the left into the ruling establishment – with which [the left] already shares, for instance, the principle of invoking historical events to explain the present.” He began by listing off his party’s centennial celebrations over the past five years, from the October Revolution (oddly, his key demand for a “government of people’s trust” is not a Bolshevik slogan, but a liberal one from the February Revolution) to the 1922 founding of the USSR.

The other post-Soviet states have their own feelings about that centennial and Russia’s renewed interest in it. Georgian analyst Gela Vasadze, for example, notes that “There have always been and will always be . . . negative feelings about the Russian state, since Georgia was one of the first [countries] to be subjected to aggression from Russia . . . back in the early 1990s.” What’s different now, though, is the Chinese factor: “Xi Jinping’s arrival in Moscow is an attempt to feel out Russia’s ability to provide a force component to prevent the strengthening of Western influence in former Soviet countries,” Vasadze continued.

There is less tension between Moscow and Tbilisi on the religious front, however. As Kommersant’s correspondents point out, the Georgian Orthodox Church defers to the Moscow Patriarchate on certain ecumenical questions due to “the ROC’s unwavering position on recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as the canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church.”

This came into play when the Ukrainian Culture Ministry marked the Soviet Union’s centennial in appropriate fashion by asserting state control over the country’s oldest monastery, Kiev Pesherskaya Lavra. Security forces oversaw the transfer of the property from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – which was subject to the Moscow Patriarchate from 1722 to 2022 – to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Patriarch of Constantinople, who recognized the OCU as autocephalic in 2018, has not spoken against the move, but it was panned by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia and the Patriarch of Antioch.

“We will not allow a terrorist state to have any ability whatsoever to manipulate the spirituality of our people,” President Zelensky justified the Culture Ministry’s decision. The Lavra’s UOC vicar responded: “We have no intention of moving out. . . . They are threatening to make short work of us, but this isn’t 1917.”

Indeed, a new global power might arise once a century, but an East-West rivalry driving a Great Schism in the Orthodox Church? Mr. Xi might be off by a factor of 10.