What brings together bearded Orthodox priests, one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest advisors, and dozens of ultra-conservative activists from North Main Street, Rockford, Illinois to the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia?

On the anniversary of a brutal attack against gay-rights activists in the Caucasian capital, several hundred people gathered for the World Congress of Families, an international society working to defend the “natural family.” The annual conference was held in a former Soviet country for the first time this past May in symbolic acknowledgment of Russia’s expanding global role in rejecting progressive reforms in favor of “traditional values.”

Traditional values has turned into a blanket term for an anti-liberal agenda: from homophobic laws to restrictions on contraception, abortion access and sex education; a push for religious education in public schools; bans on expletive language, nudity or sexuality on television or in some cases, art; and laws decriminalizing domestic abuse. Russia faces formidable social challenges such as the world’s fastest growing HIV-positive community or the world’s highest abortion rate, and the government’s response has been to embrace “traditional values” and increase funding for their protectors: the Church and its auxiliaries.

This conservative agenda corresponds with the Kremlin’s political goals of boosting its population and presenting a foil to “western decadence.” Reforms in the name of protecting the feelings of believers are tools for banning religious minorities from Russia, closing international art exhibits and pressuring human rights organizations to shut down.

But traditional values extend beyond domestic politics. By building a new multi-million-dollar cathedral yards from the Eiffel Tower in a city where other Orthodox churches stand empty or by sending government advisors to anti-gay conferences on its borders, Russia also uses “traditional values” slogan to reassert its geopolitical might. The term has become a major tool in Russia’s soft power arsenal, an alternative, Moscow says, to the concepts of “freedom” and “democracy” propagated by the West.

Has this rhetoric been effective? And do Moscow-backed ‘traditional values’ have much to do with beliefs?

Follow this current to find out.