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Russian patriarch blesses Putin-backed Paris church

December 4, 2016

The church is viewed as a dual religious and political move to exert Russian influence in the heart of France. The cathedral has been backed by Vladimir Putin.

Paris russische Kirche
Image: Getty Images/P.Kovarik

The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church consecrated a new cathedral only steps from the Eiffel Tower on Sunday. It is the culmination of a controversial project viewed by some as part of President Vladimir Putin's efforts to spread his country's influence into Europe.

Patriarch Kirill, an ally of Putin, blessed the Saint Trinity Church, located on the Left Bank of the Seine River, with members of France's large Russian Orthodox community present.

The church boasts an 8-ton gold dome encircled by four smaller gold domes - all part of a 100 million euro ($106 million) Russian cultural, educational and religious center financed by the Kremlin.

The project has been supported by Putin, who has combined a potent mix of Russian nationalism and Orthodoxy to help cement his conservative social agenda and rule.

Paris russische Kirche
The church is 36 meters high (120 feet)Image: Getty Images/P.Kovarik

Russia first bought the prime real estate in 2008 for nearly 70 million euros and lobbied hard to push the project through when it faced resistance from the French bureaucracy. Among those against the project were French security officials, who warned that its proximity to several government buildings, including the foreign ministry, posed an espionage risk.

The church is viewed as a sign of Russian assertiveness and power projection in the heart of Europe. It comes as tensions between Russia and the West are at a low point because of differences over Ukraine and Syria. Highlighting those tensions, Putin canceled a trip in October to open the church after French President Francois Hollande said he would only meet with his counterpart to discuss Syria.

Paris russische Kirche
The interior walls of the church are still bare. Mosaics and other designs will take another two years.Image: Getty Images/E.Feferberg

However, it also comes as there is a surge of populism in Europe against liberalism and multiculturalism - policies more in line with Putin and the Russian Orthodox church's traditionalism. Several leading politicians in Europe, including two front-runners in next year's French presidential election, conservative Francois Fillon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, advocate greater cooperation with Russia in Syria and an end to sanctions over Ukraine.

There are already Russian Orthodox churches in Paris, but except for one, all are tied to the rival Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul.

The background to this division is the 1917 Russian Communist revolution, which sent tens of thousands of Russian exiles to France. Nearly all the Russian Orthodox churches in France are tied to the patriarch in Istanbul, which is something Russia has tried to reverse. 

cw/jlw (AP, KNA)

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