Russian leaders are strongly backing, even promoting, the Orthodox church there. Does anyone have any experience with this or thoughts
Russian Orthodox Church was always a puppet and a tool in Russia. Its decisions and moves were controlled by tsars starting from the XIV century onward. It helped it a lot to become so influential. In the Soviet Union era despite the persecution the only church to be opened for the believers was Russian Orthodox Church. (I was baptized illegally!!! at my parents' home by a priest of Ukrainian Catholic church, which was forbidden and priests either sent to Siberia or regular prisons). Priests who could be broken or even replaced by KGB agents were serving there. You know what confessions usually led to if they had to do anything with a wrong word against the state. Funny enough in 1943 Stalin himself brought back Russian Orthodox Church to use it as a moral support of the people, which atheism obviously couldn't do. This is why now everyone in Russian government are so pious and church-supporting.
Gleb Yakunin, a defrocked Priest and critic of the Moscow Patriarchate who was one of those who had access to the KGB archive documents in the early 1990s, argued that the Moscow Patriarchate was "practically a subsidiary, a sister company of the KGB".Critics charge that the archives showed the extent of active participation of the top ROC hierarchs in the KGB efforts overseas. George Trofimoff, the highest-ranking US military officer ever indicted for, and convicted of, espionage by the United States and sentenced to life imprisonment on September 27, 2001, had been "recruited into the service of the KGB" by Igor Susemihl (a.k.a. Zuzemihl), a bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church (subsequently, a high-ranking hierarch - the ROC Metropolitan Iriney of Vienna, who died in July 1999).
The Moscow Patriarchate has, however, consistently denied that its bishops were in fact KGB Agents. Konstanin Kharchev, former chairman of Soviet Council on Religious Affairs, explained: "Not a single candidatefor the office of bishop or any other high-ranking office, much less a member of Holy Synod, went through withoutconfirmation by the Central Committee of the CPSU and the KGB".
This is a powerful tool to use inside and outside the country. Recently Ukraine saw a visit of Russian Orthodox patriarch Kyril, who came to "bring back to senses a led-astray herd of Ukrainian Orthodox believers".
An expert on religion, Andrij Yurash, said to ZIK July 27 the visit to Ukraine of Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kiril has a political dimension which is part of the ideology pursued both by Kiril and the Russian regime. The essence of this ideology is that, insofar as Ukraine cannot be brought to the Russian fold politically, at least a spiritual noose should be tied.
So no surprises and awe when Putin licks an icon and crosses himself - it is just a job ;)