According to Newsweek, more than three times as many Russians as usual were scheduled to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast Thursday, an event customarily attended by the U.S. president as well.
The attendees included more than 50 of Russia's religious and political elite:
The Fellowship Foundation, a religious organization that organizes the National Prayer Breakfast, does not disclose how it compiles its guest list. But several members of Russia’s parliament and a member of the political opposition running for president against Vladimir Putin were reportedly invited to the event. Officials told Russian media that the event provided an opportunity to hold informal meetings and build bridges between different layers of society, according to CNN. Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has attended the annual event.
Russia’s religious elite have strong connections to Russia’s political class, and Orthodox Christianity is deeply rooted in the country's national identity. Putin’s ties to the church allow him to tout himself as a defender of Christian conservative values, and he has pushed discriminatory policies against gays and lesbians both within Russia and in neighboring countries.
Representatives of more than 100 countries attend the event, but Russia opted against sending a delegation this year.
Late last month, the U.S. Treasury Department released an unclassified list of Russian oligarchs who could be the target of future U.S. sanctions. The list was widely mocked for being little more than a copy paste job of a Forbes list of Russia’s wealthiest citizens.
Nevertheless, the list sparked some outrage in Russia, and some members of the Duma announced that they would boycott Trump’s prayer breakfast in response.