"Without Christianity, without the Orthodox faith and culture which sprang from it, Russia would have hardly existed as a state," Vladimir Putin said during a visit to the Solovetsky monastery, on the Solovki Islands, part of Russia's northern White Sea archipelago.
Patriarch Alexei II, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, accompanied Putin to the monastery.
In what observers have described as a carefully timed vacation, the president has visited Orthodox churches and monasteries in northern Russia as his country marks the 10th anniversary of the attempted coup, which was launched in August 1991 against Mikhail Gorbachev.
The coup attempt—although unsuccessful—started a chain of events that led to Gorbachev's downfall, the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the rise of Boris Yeltsin as president of an independent Russian Federation.
The wisdom of the coup is now the subject of heated debate in Moscow. Many of those directly involved— including Gorbachev, democracy campaigners, and those who plotted the coup—have made statements in recent days about the events.
Moscow commentators have criticized the failure of Putin to make any direct comment about the anniversary. However, his visit to the Solovetsky is seen as highly significant.
The first Soviet labor camp was founded there in 1923 after the monastery was closed at the time of the Russian revolution. During Stalin's rule, many thousands of people, including many clergy, were shot or died at the camp. The monastery was re-opened in 1991.
Georgy Satarov, who heads the "INDEM" political think-tank, said Putin's ...