Saint Vladimir the Great helped create Christian Russia. Given the standards of the time, he was an effective and just ruler.
The same cannot be said for Vladimir Putin.
Saint Vladimir brought the Kievan Rus into the Byzantine commonwealth by his conversion to Orthodoxy giving the Rus nation access to a broader cultural world.
No modern person would wish a restoration of Saint Vladimir’s style of governance: Christians have learned over the centuries, particularly Orthodox Christians, what does and does not work politically.
Vladimir Putin has learned too few of those lessons to be trusted with the power he has. He is reactionary, calling up the worst of the bad old days of the Soviet Union or the earlier Tsarist period.
Putin has favored religious education, overtly supports traditional Christian sexual ethics (despite his own pending divorce and dalliances), and has brought stability and some measure of prosperity to Russia. These accomplishment have come at too high a price.
Putin has weakened constitutional government and has instituted a dangerous cult of personality. Corruption still flourishes at the highest levels of the regime. Personal liberty is threatened by a police state that Putin knows too well from his time as a KGB colonel. Freedom of religion, conscience, speech, and assembly are violated by the Putin regime.
Putin’s support for certain economic policies (a Russian flat tax) and traditional Christian sexual morality should provide no cover for the kleptocracy or the brutal behavior towards those who dissent from majority opinion on sexual issues. Christians should not be silent when the right of peaceful assembly is denied those with whom we disagree.
Millions of Russian Christians were martyred in the last century by a secular Russian regime that “protected” the workers from our deviant ideas. Millions of Russian Christians were tortured in camps and “psychological” centers.
Replacing a secular totalitarianism with a Christian one is worse, since it corrupts the Christian ideal through the misuse of power. Freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, the right to peaceable assembly are not just good ideas: they are necessary for human flourishing. They are the product of the best of Western monotheistic and secular philosophy. Mob rule where minorities are not safe or free to dissent is a return to barbarism.
John Locke, that great Christian philosopher and apologist, was right: government must be limited to avoid a tyranny, even of the majority, over humankind’s inalienable rights. Allowing disagreement and tolerating difference is not approval, it is humane.
Saint Vladimir governed in the light he had been given, but Vladimir Putin quenches the light of constitutional government which was the hard won gift of centuries of Christian reflection. Christians can choose the lesser of two evils, but only if they have no choice. Russian Christians and American Christians should find another choice, because Vladimir Putin sullies any cause to which he is attached.