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Russia removes Putin mosaic from church

May 2, 2020

An enormous new military church was set to feature mosaics of Vladimir Putin, a tribute to the annexation of Crimea and Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The president himself has now intervened to remove his own image.

An interior view shows a new Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the Russian Armed Forces
Image: Reuters/Moscow News Agency/S. Kiselyov

Intricate mosaics depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials will not be put on display in a new Russian military church, officials confirmed late on Friday. The grandiose wall decorations faced objections from the Kremlin.

Another mosaic of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin has also been met with criticism but has yet to be officially removed from the church.

An image of the mosaic, which showed Putin alongside Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, was first made public in Russian media last week. While the Kremlin has not publicly commented on the mosaic, the decision to remove it apparently came from Putin himself.

Bishop Stefan of the church in question denied reports that the mosaic had been dismantled, but told Russian media that it had indeed been removed from display "in accordance with the wish of the head of state [Putin]."

According to a Kremlin spokesman, Putin thought it was too early to celebrate Russia's current leadership. Putin recently moved to alter the Russian constitution to potentially allow him to stay in power until 2036.

Read more: Russia's devout push back against coronavirus church closures

An aerial view shows a new Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the Russian Armed Forces during construction works outside Moscow
The new cathedral is dedicated to the Russian Armed ForcesImage: Reuters/Moscow News Agency/D. Voronin

'Crimea is ours'

The mosaic of Putin celebrated the controversial 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. Another mosaic panel shows a group of women and reads "Crimea is ours."

Meanwhile, Vladimir Legoyda of the Synodal Department for Relations between the church and the media told Russian media that a second mosaic depicting former leader Josef Stalin should also be removed.

"With his name associated with many troubles in the lives of people who can not be crossed out of history," he told Russian radio program Faith, while acknowledging that the featuring of secular figures in churches is not abnormal.

A view of the interior of the Resurrection of Christ Cathedral, the main Russian Orthodox cathedral serving the Russian Armed Forces, which is under construction in Patriot Military Park
The cathedral was scheduled to open on the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Soviet Red Army over Nazi GermanyImage: picture-alliance/Tass/A. Novoderezhkin

The massive military cathedral was scheduled to be opened during May to mark 75 years since the Soviet victory in World War II, but its opening is likely to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Russian annexation of Crimea has been condemned by many Western countries and led to several sanctions being slapped on Moscow.

ed/aw (dpa, Interfax, Reuters)

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