Russia’s 201st motorized division, acting as a “CIS peacekeeping force” in Tajikistan, is erecting a bell tower for an Orthodox church at a Russian military settlement in Dushanbe. The foundation stone was laid at a special ceremony yesterday. Russia’s ambassador to Tajikistan, Yevgeny Belov, and other officials who spoke at the ceremony found it appropriate to stress the 201st division’s record in the war in Afghanistan. They recalled that the division had been “one of the first to cross the Tajik-Afghan border on New Year’s Eve” [paraphrase for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan] and that its soldiers were awarded the highest Soviet medals during that war: four Orders of the Soviet Union, six Orders of Lenin and more than 400 Red Banner Orders (Itar-Tass, February 14).
The ceremony reflected the transition from Soviet ideology to religiously tinged Russian nationalism as an officially encouraged norm system and military morale-booster. Adding a religious dimension to the Russian military effort–and erecting a conspicuous new Orthodox church building in a Muslim country’s capital–seems singularly counterproductive to the Russian military’s “peacekeeping” mission in Central Asia.
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