In This Review

Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics, and Strategy
Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics, and Strategy
By Dmitry Adamsky
376 pp, Stanford University Press, 2019

The role of the Russian Orthodox Church in post-Soviet Russian society has been much discussed in recent years, but Adamsky is the first to examine the church’s place in the nuclear military-industrial complex. He details how a formerly persecuted church made itself indispensable to Russia’s nuclear forces by providing them with ideological legitimation as they faced a catastrophic loss of funding and social prestige in the early 1990s. Three decades later, the church has become a prominent presence throughout the entire military, but the nuclear branch stands out as the most imbued with clericalism. Priests regularly minister to its service members, joining their flock on operational missions. The church has built houses of worship on all of Russia’s nuclear bases, Orthodox icons grace nuclear weapons platforms, and commanders have increasingly incorporated religious ideas into their strategic thinking. Adamsky convincingly shows that this began as a grass-roots process, whereby those of lower military rank recognized priests as a source of the kind of pastoral and psychological support they sorely needed in a high-stress work environment. Only later did the regime take notice and seek to systematize the phenomenon from above. The result is an unprecedented nuclear-religious culture, whose emergence has significant strategic implications, including the introduction of theological concepts into Russian military planning.