After the revolutionary communists killed Tsar Nicholas II and established an atheist state in the form of the Soviet government, the new leaders ordered that The Holy Trinity, an icon painted by medieval artist Andrei Rublev, be moved to a newly opened museum.
The painting had been held at the Trinity Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, a grand Russian Orthodox Church seen at its rightful home.
Fast-forward to 2022, the icon was authorised to move to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Moscow.
Then, on May 15, 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered that the icon be returned to the custody of the church, and be placed back in Trinity Cathedral — this despite warnings from museum directors in Russia that moving the icon risks damaging it beyond repair.
Why would Putin order such a move to be carried out? Dr Katherine Kelaidis, Director of Research and Content at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago, believes it is yet another attempt by Putin to present himself as a religious king, one that will bring back the old ways.
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She told Express.co.uk: “This is Putin in his guise as a pious tsar, as a pious king, who does his Christian duty and services to the church and erases the actions of the Bolsheviks.
“Putin sees returning the icon to the church as his role, as his place as the guardian of faith, to go back and undo this action.
“It is to restore the old way, to put things back to how they were before 1917 — to put this important icon back to where it was.”
Putin, who is Orthodox, has in the past suggested that he has a very close relationship with god.
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera 2015, he claimed that he never made mistakes because God “built his life so he’d have nothing to regret”.
The Russian President has also been regularly accused of wanting to restore the Russian Empire, which came to an end in 1917.
Robert Gates, a former Department of Defense (DOD) secretary, told NBC earlier this year that Putin believes it is “his identity” to restore the empire.
He said: “And as my old mentor, Zbig Brzezinski [Former National Security Advisor of the US], used to say, ‘Without Ukraine, there can be no Russian Empire.’
“So he is obsessed with retaking Ukraine, he will hang in there. I think that he does believe that time is on his side, that support in the US, support in Europe, and so on, will fray.”
Putin is also known to admire Tsar Alexander III, the brutal Russian Emperor who ruled the country with an iron grip from 1881 to 1894.
According to Ágnes Komáromi, a regular contributor to the political magazine Hungarian Conservative, “Alexander III of Russia is known to be Putin’s favourite tsar”.
So much so that he has commissioned a series of memorials to the late Alexander across Russia, the first in Russian-annexed Crimea in 2017, and later in 2021, near St Petersburg.
At both, Putin praised the tsar’s credentials, branding him the “Russian Peacemaker Tsar”.