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Giant Russian church to feature Putin and Stalin mosaics

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Moscow (AFP)

A giant Orthodox cathedral adorned with images of President Vladimir Putin and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is slated to be finished next month to commemorate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

The Cathedral of the Armed Forces in a military theme park outside Moscow features a veritable pantheon of the country's top leaders gracing its lush interior alongside God, the Virgin Mary and saints.

Built to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis, the church also glorifies other "feats of arms of the Russian people" including Moscow's takeover of Crimea, the defence ministry said.

Nearly 100 metres (330 feet) tall and crowned by six golden domes, the cathedral will be Russia's third-largest Orthodox Christian church, a ministry spokesman told AFP.

The centrepiece is a colourful series of mosaics that feature Stalin, Putin and top officials including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

Another mosaic features the slogan "Crimea is ours!" -- which has become a nationalist refrain after the peninsula's seizure from Ukraine in 2014.

The project is steeped in symbolism: its bell chamber is 75 metres high to mark the 75th anniversary and melted-down parts of Nazi tanks and planes were used to build its steps.

The ministry spokesman said several thousand workers are labouring around the clock to have the church finished by May 9, when Russia celebrates Victory Day.

"It will be ready by May 9," the spokesman said, adding that he did not know when the church would formally open.

Russia marks the anniversary every year with a military parade through Red Square but this year's event -- which many world leaders had agreed to attend -- was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The cathedral has come under fire from critics like historian Sergei Bryun who called its interior a "mockery of Russian history and statehood".

Writing in business daily Vedomosti, he noted the irony of an Orthodox Church for the first time featuring an image of Stalin, who clamped down on religion and purged the clergy.

The Russian Orthodox Church dismissed criticism.

"You cannot dismantle the history of our state," archpriest Leonid Kalinin, who heads the Church's art and architecture council, told Govorit Moskva radio.

He defended the depiction of Stalin, pointing out that he led the Soviet Union to victory in World War II, as well as images of masked and armed commandos who took over Crimea in a "bloodless" operation.

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