12 Mar 2009

Church offers to help Kremlin weather crisis

7:33 am on 12 March 2009

The Russian Orthodox Church says it will help the Kremlin keep a lid on any social unrest caused by the economic slump.

RIA news agency reports the announcement was made by Patriarch Kirill at a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday in Tula, about 200km from Moscow.

Kirill was elected to lead Russia's biggest church earlier this year, after the death of Alexiy II.

He says "the church cannot afford to stand to one side."

"We will help people to remain calm," he said. "We will oppose divisions in society which may grow because of the economic crisis."

The Church has claimed moral authority in Russia since the end of communism and wants a stronger political role.

In remarks broadcast by state television, Mr Medvedev said: "Religious organisations can do a lot to prevent moral decline, the spread of a pessimistic mood in the society."

Russia is heading into recession. The rouble has lost about a third of its value against the dollar since August and about two million people have lost their jobs.