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Russia christens cathedral — without Putin, Stalin mosaics

June 14, 2020

A newly constructed church has become the pinnacle of Russia's 75th anniversary celebration of the end of WWII. The installation of a grandiose mosaic depicting the leader was called off after criticism of the idea.

Russland Moskau Kubinka | Kathedrale der Russischen Streitkräfte
Image: picture-alliance/Sputnik/E. Odinokov

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill consecrated on Sunday a massive new cathedral dedicated to its armed forces just west of Moscow.

The Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces had been built to mark 75 years since the Soviet victory in World War II.

An ornate mosaic depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials was originally planned for the church in celebration of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

However,  following criticism of a personality cult around Putin, as well as objections reportedly from the leader himself, the mosaic was not put on display.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at the end of April that Putin was aware of the mosaic but that he thought it was too premature to celebrate the accomplishments of the country's current leadership.

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In May, Bishop Stefan, the cathedral's archpriest, told the Russian Interfax news agency that its arts committee had decided not to exhibit the mosaic in line with the "wish of the head of state." He did not provide further details.

Russian media also reported that one mosaic panel was originally designed to show a portrait of Stalin, responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people, many in the oppressive gulag labor camp system of the Soviet Union. It's believed that this idea was shelved, particularly in light of the persecution suffered by the Orthodox Church and other religious groups during Stalin's three decades of rule.

Russia has a long-standing tradition of constructing Orthodox military cathedrals in honor of the armed forces, Gerasimov said. 

Construction of the church cost 6 billion roubles ($86 million, €76 billion), according to local media reports.

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, along with religious leaders and hundreds of uniformed soldiers, attended the ceremony at the newly constructed cathedral in the Moscow suburb of Kubinka's Patriot Park.

"This is an unprecedented event for the soldiers and for all of the citizens in the whole country,"  the current head of the general staff of the armed forces, General Valery Gerasimov, said ahead of the event. 

The cathedral had initially scheduled to open its doors on May 9,  when Victory Day is celebrated in Russia, but its inauguration was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile a large military parade set to take place in Moscow's Red Square was deferred to June 24.  

mvb/rc (dpa, Reuters)