Russian President Vladimir Putin "believes he is like the czars," the imperial dynasty that ruled Russia for centuries, said a US expert who worked in the former Obama administration.
"Putin has certainly used the Russian Orthodox Church in order to serve his goals," said Anna Makanju, former director for Russia at the US National Security Council, on Sunday.
Some history: The Russian Orthodox Church had historically served as a pillar of legitimacy and support for the Romanov czars. When communist radicals swept to power during the Bolshevik revolution, they targeted the Russian Orthodox Church and tore down churches that had been place of worship for the czars.
But in the nearly 26 years since the Soviet Union’s collapse, the role of the Church has transformed, and is now actively promoted by the Kremlin as a defining characteristic of Russian identity.
President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent of the atheist Soviet Union, now embraces his Orthodox Christianity. The Russian leader is often shown on national television broadcasts attending church services and paying respect to the church leadership.
Putin's push: As Putin steps up his assault on Ukraine, some international observers have commented that he may "trying to rebuild the USSR," said Makanju, referring to the Soviet Union which lasted from 1922 to 1991.
"I think that's not quite right -- he's trying to take it back to 1889," she said.
Back then, "czars thought they were essentially ordained by God to rule Russia," she added. "I actually believe Putin believes he is like the czars, potentially called by God in order to control and restore the glory of the Russian empire."