Russian Orthodox Church insists it is not backing Putin in election

The Russian Orthodox Church has insisted it is not backing Vladimir Putin in the forthcoming presidential elections on Sunday.

Patriarch Kirill, head of the ROC, is a close friend of Putin and an ally of the Kremlin. He called on all believers to take part in the election, which serves more to bolster Putin's support rather than select Russia's leader as the result is a foregone conclusion.

Metropolitan Hilarion, the 'foreign minister' of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.Kremlin

In a Christmas interview with the state-run television station Rossia 1 Kirill said voting was 'intrinsic' to the Church.

'That's why I would call on everyone, including Orthodox people, to definitely participate in the upcoming presidential elections. It's very important,' he said.

But his foreign affairs spokesman Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk denied the Church would be taking sides in the election. The Church, he said, is 'politically neutral' and 'above political preferences'.

He told the Japanese news agency, Kyodo Tsushin: 'His Holiness the Patriarch, as well as bishops and priests of our Church, speak of the importance of participation in elections, since each one in the country is called by the Church to take an active civic stand and to be not indifferent to the destiny of their motherland.

'Indeed, a popular vote is one of the effective instruments through which each of us can make his or her own contribution to forming the future of our country, to preserving the moral climate in society and the historical, spiritual and cultural heritage.

'While calling upon citizens to be politically active, the Russian Orthodox Church does not participate in the election campaign, nor does she call people to vote for a particular candidate. It is my deep conviction that it is in this stand that the power of the Church lies. She, being politically neutral, unites in herself people of diverse political beliefs.

'It is so because the spiritual values and moral ideals cherished and proclaimed by the Church are above political preferences and social and material differences between people.'

Increasing the electoral turnout is, however, a key aim for the Kremlin as it hopes to encourage Russia's 110 million registered voters, as of 2016, out of a total population of 142 million, to vote. 

'While President Vladimir Putin's electoral victory is a foregone conclusion, the Kremlin is keen to boost electoral turnout to increase legitimacy,' Otilia Dhand, senior vice president at Teneo Intelligence, said in a note on Monday.

'This, however, is unlikely to be successful: the latest polls suggest that voter participation will fall well below the Kremlin's unofficial target of 70 per cent.'

The result of Sunday's election is not in doubt and the only real challenger, Alexei Navalny, the forthright leader of the opposition, was forced to end his plan to run.