“This land was Russian and it will remain so! We owe this legendary verse to Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod. In April 1242, he executed soldiers of the Teutonic Order, originating in present-day Germany, who were intent on conquering medieval Russia and converting it to Catholicism. Eight centuries later, Nevsky’s figure occupies a central place in the imagination deployed by Vladimir Putin to justify his invasion of Ukraine, presented as a defensive measure to protect Russian-speakers in the face of Western danger.
“We are now fighting against Europe as our ancestors did,” says Oleg Yakhontov, a 56-year-old former paratrooper who took part in the historic reenactment near the Estonian border. In September 2021, Vladimir Putin, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Patriarch Kirill, a few meters away, personally inaugurated a metal sculpture representing the despotic prince of Novgorod and his warriors.
“Alexander Nevsky’s appearance is truly magnificent,” the Russian leader declared, not only a “tremendous military commander” but also a “skillful diplomat” who allied with the Mongols as Moscow looked to China today. “Our president continues this work,” says Oleg Davydov, a 52-year-old engineer, calmly. For him, Vladimir Putin embodies “the country’s defense, its strength, self-confidence and security.”
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