Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe favor strong role for Russia in geopolitics, religion

Source: Pew Research Center

Roughly a quarter century after the end of the Soviet era, Russia retains substantial influence throughout many parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Indeed, Russia is widely viewed by the region’s Orthodox Christians as an important counterweight to Western influences and as a global protector of Orthodox and ethnic Russian populations, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 18 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Majorities or pluralities in nearly all Orthodox-majority countries surveyed agree that a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West, and that Russia has an obligation to protect Orthodox Christians and ethnic Russians outside its borders.

This sentiment prevails even in the three Orthodox-majority countries surveyed that are members of the European Union: Bulgaria, Greece and Romania. But pro-Russia sentiment tends to run strongest in former Soviet republics that have Orthodox majorities and are not in the EU, including Armenia, Belarus and Moldova.

Support for Russia’s geopolitical and religious role is noticeably weaker in Ukraine, an Orthodox-majority country that is still engaged in conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. In addition, people in Catholic-majority or religiously mixed countries in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Hungary, are much less likely to support a strong role for Russia.

Excepting Ukraine, support for Russia’s role is widespread throughout the other Orthodox-majority countries we surveyed. For instance, seven-in-ten or more people in Greece (70%), Belarus (76%), Serbia (80%), Armenia (83%) and Russia itself (85%) completely or mostly agree with the statement, “A strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West.” Further analysis shows that people who agree that conflict exists between Western values and the traditional values of their own country are more likely than others to say a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West.

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