Giant new Russian cathedral glorifies Putin and Stalin in mosaics

Crimea annexation also exalted in Moscow church due to open on anniversary of 1945 victory

Russia is planning to open a huge cathedral with mosaics depicting Vladimir Putin and Joseph Stalin, as well as the annexation of Crimea, on the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany next month.

The mammoth structure will be one of the world’s tallest Orthodox cathedrals when it opens in the military’s Patriot Park outside Moscow on 9 May .

Largely, the Resurrection of Christ Cathedral is a monument to the Soviet victory in the second world war. The diameter of the drum under the main cupola will measure 19.45 metres to signify the year the war ended, and a “road of memory” will have 1,418 steps, corresponding to the number of days the Soviet Union fought in the war. Its main steps are reportedly forged from metal salvaged from Nazi military hardware.

But special attention has been paid to several eye-catching mosaics that glorify Putin and other Russian officials during the annexation of Crimea in 2014, an operation led by unmarked Russian army units referred to as “little green men”.

(August 9, 1999)  Acting prime minister

Boris Yeltsin sacks his cabinet and appoints Putin, a political neophyte who headed the main successor to the KGB, as his acting prime minister and heir apparent.

(December 31, 1999)  Acting president

Yeltsin stuns Russia and the world by using his traditional new year message to announce his resignation and hand his sweeping powers, including the nuclear suitcase, to Putin.

(March 23, 2000)  President (first term)

Putin wins a surprisingly narrow majority in his first presidential election, taking 53% of the vote and avoiding a second round run-off.

(March 14, 2004)  President (second term)

Putin consolidates his centralised control of power by cruising to a second term as president with 71% of the vote, having limited press access to his opponents and harassing their campaigns.

(May 8, 2008)  Prime minister

Putin is prevented by the constitution from running for a third term as president. The First deputy prime minister Dmitry Medvedev is elected in his stead. One of his earliest moves is to appoint Putin as prime minister, leaving little doubt that the two men plan, at the very least, to run Russia in tandem.

(March 4, 2012)  President (third term)

Amid widespread allegations of vote-rigging, Putin returns to the role of president, taking 63.6%Medvedev becomes his prime minister. "Putin has named himself the emperor of Russia for the next 12 years," says  protest leader Alexei Navalny. 

(March 18, 2018)  President (fourth term)

Putin is re-elected until 2024 with 77% of the vote, amid high tensions between London and Moscow over the Salisbury nerve agent attack. Opposition activists highlight a number of cases of vote-rigging and statistical anomalies.

(June 25, 2020) 

Russia holds a yes/no referendum on various topics including a proposal to amend the constitution to allow Putin to seek another two terms in the Kremlin. The resolution passes, potentially allowing him to rule as president until 2036.

One of the mosaics, first revealed by the MBKh News website, depicts Putin, Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service, and other top brass walking among a sea of Russians bearing tricolour flags. Also in the crowd appear to be Valery Gerasimov, a prominent Russian general, and Sergey Aksyonov, the current head of Crimea installed by Putin.

Стены главного храма вооруженных сил России, строительство которого заканчивается в подмосковном парке «Патриот», украсят мозаикой с изображениями Владимира Путина, Сергея Шойгу и Иосифа Сталина. Фото: МБХ медиа

— МБХ Медиа (@MBKhMedia) April 23, 2020

A missing panel photographed separately shows several women in front of a sign that reads “Crimea is ours”.

Andrey Kuraev, an archdeacon, wrote: “It’s like a guilty plea to The Hague. If an icon with the conquest of Crimea is placed in an army cathedral, that means the army played a decisive role in this operation.”

Church officials confirmed the leaked pictures, saying it was custom to include real figures in church mosaics.

“There has always been this tradition, when historical scenes are depicted from one period or another. It’s understood that one of these meaningful events was the accession of Crimea. The leading members of the government, who will be depicted here, took part in that accession,” Bishop Stefan, the head of the cathedral, told the business newspaper RBC.

A picture made available by the press service of the Russian defence ministry shows the cathedral
A picture made available by the press service of the Russian defence ministry shows the cathedral. Photograph: Vadim Savitsky/EPA

Another mosaic depicts the 1945 parade following the victory over Nazi Germany, with a crowd of soldiers standing in front of the Kremlin and a banner bearing a portrait of Stalin. It is one of his first appearances on a state building since the 1960s.

“They are holding a poster with Stalin, but he isn’t among the marshals of the victory, despite being the commander in chief,” the artist who made the mosaics told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Putin has reacted carefully to public revelations about the mosaics. A spokesman said on Sunday: “When he was told about this, he smiled and said: ‘Someday our thankful descendants will appreciate our merits, but it’s too early to do so now.’”

On Monday evening the church said it would engage its arts committee to review the mosaic.


Andrew Roth in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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