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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Plans Orthodox Ceremony

RIA novostiPutin strolling around Zavidovo, outside Moscow, Saturday with leaders and members of the United Russia party.
President Vladimir Putin is to host Russian Orthodox priests Monday in the Kremlin to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the restoration of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The ceremony -- commemorating the 1917 council that installed Metropolitan Tikhon as the Church's first patriarch since the early 18th century -- comes just two weeks before the Dec. 2 State Duma elections.

The Kremlin and Church denied any political overtones, but analysts say the meeting is an effort to secure votes from religious voters for United Russia, whose federal ticket Putin is heading up in the race.

At stake could be a considerable chunk of the electorate: The Russian Orthodox Church claims 125 million adherents in Russia. And while only 4 percent of that figure represents practicing believers, the Church works as a kind of moral compass for the entire country, said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Putin will ask the Church to promote United Russia among its followers, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

Indeed, a Church-backed party is mutually beneficial, as the Church is rewarded with protection and greater prominence, like greater coverage on state-controlled television, Petrov said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov downplayed any political context to Monday's meeting.

"The president is actively maintaining relations with all the religions of the country," Peskov said Friday. "This is a very big day for our predominant religion."

Moscow Patriarchate official Georgy Rybykh conceded Friday that part of the Church's mandate was to "enlighten people about their social and moral responsibility to decide the country's fate." But he maintained that Monday's meeting with Putin was "strictly a religious affair."

Not since Tsar Nicholas II has Russia had a leader so keen to embrace religion. Putin has made regular public appearances with Church representatives and has said the Church "plays a paramount role in preserving the moral pillars" of society.

Putin held a meeting with representatives of the country's Muslim population earlier this month at which the Duma elections were discussed.