Putin’s negative assessment of Nicholas II

Putin’s attitude to Nicholas II

During his presidency, Vladimir Putin has spoken negatively about Nicholas II on more than one occasion, describing his role as a ruler “erroneous” and “absurd”. Putin believes that Nicholas II ruled the country incorrectly, made many mistakes, which is why Russia lost the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and later lead Russia unprepared into the First World War. Putin further believes that during the war, Nicholas II personally made a number of errors of judgment and policy, which forced his highest ranking military officers to seek his removal from the throne by forcing the Tsar to abdicate. The main conspirators were mainly military leaders and self-serving politicians of the Duma.

Vladimir Putin has also publicly referred to Russia’s last tsar as “Bloody Nicholas” on more than one occasion. His negative attitude towards Nicholas II, however, does not reflect his assessment of other Russian monarchs, including the Emperors Peter I, Nicholas I, Alexander II, and Alexander III.

“Nicholas the Bloody”

A video has been circulating on YouTube for some years now, in which Putin is caught on camera making an insult towards Nicholas II. Entering his Kremlin office (probably on the day of his first inauguration on 7th May 2000), Putin responds to these words spoken by one of his aides: “From this roof [Grand Kremlin Palace], Nicholas II looked out over Moscow.”

“Well, he had nothing to do, so he ran across the roofs,” Russia’s new President remarked contemptuously.

During a meeting with members of construction teams in Sochi in the summer of 2011, Putin referred to the Tsar as “Nicholas the Bloody”. This epithet runs counter to both the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, which canonized Nicholas II on 20th August 2000, and with the ideology of the Russian authorities during the past 20 years.

Then, on 4th March 2014, during a press conference in Novo-Ogaryov on the events in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin once again, used the Soviet propaganda epithet “Nicholas the Bloody”. He was responding to a question by a journalist of the Interfax news agency, Putin said the following: “A simple Ukrainian citizen, a Ukrainian man suffered both under Nicholas the Bloody and under [Leonid] Kravchuk …”.

Then again, on 15th March 2014, the day marking the anniversary of the bloody February coup of 1917, in which Emperor Nicholas II  was forcibly removed from the throne, and who accepted a martyr’s crown on 17th July 1918, Putin during a press conference boorishly insulted the popularly revered Tsar-Martyr, referring to him as “Nicholas the Bloody”.

PHOTO: The inauguration of Russian President Vladimir Putin is held in the Andreevsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow. The thrones of Emperor Nicholas II, Empresses Alexandra Feodorovna and Maria Feodorovna, can be seen in the background.

Why is Putin negative about Nicholas II?

Vladimir Putin probably has a negative attitude towards Nicholas II, because he grew up in Soviet times, where, in principle, Nicholas II was presented as an unambiguously negative character, who refused to progress and generally failed any undertakings. It was during the Soviet years, that Russia’s last tsar was more often than not, referred to as “Bloody Nicholas” – old habits die hard.

During the Stalin era, documents and photographs which depicted the last tsar were seized and destroyed, as they were deemed as “ideologically harmful”. It was Joseph Stalin who ordered the Romanov archives closed and sealed. They were even off limits to historians, unless for propaganda purposes. Up until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, these private documents and photographs effectively lay untouched.

Russian historian Pyotr Multatuli notes: “Stalin forbade any mentioning of the hideous crime in Ekaterinburg, because he was well aware that it was working against his regime.

“Stalin, too, was building his empire, but it was an empire that did not have anything in common with the Russian Empire. Stalin’s empire did not pursue the interests of the Russian people. What was the nature of the Russian monarchy? There was God, the Tsar as the father of the people, and the people were his children, whom he loved, but whom he could also punish.”

Perhaps the key to unravelling Putin’s negative attitude towards Nicholas II lies in his words, spoken during a press conference on 22nd December 2010, when Putin served as Prime Minister of Russia under President Dmitry Medvedev:

“And, frankly speaking, he was not an important politician. Otherwise, the empire would have survived. Although this is not only his fault.”

Putin believes, that Nicholas II, as an autocrat, bears the main responsibility for what happened during his 22+ year reign, which resulted in the collapse of both the monarchy and the Russian Empire.

Putin is the only top Russian official who speaks out negatively against Nicholas II. The rest of the top officials, for example Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Russia’s former Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, have both only spoken positively about the last Tsar.

PHOTO: President Vladimir Putin posing in front of a portrait of Nicholas II, in the Museum of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment in Courbevoie, France in 2008.

The Russian clergy evaluate Putin’s epithet

Putin’s criticisms of Nicholas II have offended both Orthodox Christians and monarchists over the years, however, Archpriest Valery Rozhnov of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), issued the following statement dated 7th March 2014:

“Since the words of the president in Russian political culture are often perceived as political truth, the phrase about the “Nicholas the Bloody” can have far-reaching consequences.

“As you know, the epithet was part of Soviet propaganda, which was based on many human lives during the reign of the last Russian emperor. However, after the collapse of the USSR, the rhetoric changed, and Nicholas II began to be presented as a victim of circumstances and a tragic figure. It was only when the Russian Orthodox Church canonized the tsar as a saint, that the authorities began to reassess Nicholas II. President Boris Yeltsin, for example, even participated in the burial of the tsar’s remains in the Peter and Paul Cathedral [17th July 1998].

“Through Putin’s words, Soviet rhetoric once again returned to official discourse. This can have serious consequences both for the Russian Orthodox Church and for Ekaterinburg, where Nicholas II became a figure of meaning. Ekaterinburg as a place of the execution of the royal family and a place of repentance for this crime has become a center of pilgrimage and tourism. There is a monument to the imperial family in the city; a church and a monastery were built in their honour. If Nicholas II is again declared “Bloody” and not saint, then this entire industry may be called into question.

“Whether the phrase dropped by Putin is yet another sign of the return of Soviet propaganda clichés, or is this just his personal opinion, which does not claim any ideological status, the position will become clear in the future. In particular, the rhetoric of Russian officials in relation to Nicholas II and tsarist Russia in general will be of particular interest, especially given the century since the beginning of the First World War.”

PHOTO: In 2016, Putin visited an exhibition dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the artist Valentin Serov, held at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. He was photographed admiring Serov’s iconic portrait of Emperor Nicholas II (1900).

Putin denounces Lenin for murder of Nicholas II

Since Putin’s rise to power, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has proclaimed the last tsar, his wife and children, as saints, which was viewed with fear in a country where the Imperial family are still victims of a century of myths and lies, much of which are based on Bolshevik propaganda. In addition to canonization, the Church also decided to build a grand church on the site where the family was murdered in Ekaterinburg on 17th July 1918. In 2003, during a visit to the Urals, President Putin visited the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg.

Despite the negative comments made by Putin, he has also made a number of positive gestures regarding Nicholas II, which left many people surprised. During a state visit to France in 2008, Putin visited the Museum of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment in Courbevoie, where he posed in front of a portrait of the tsar.

On 25th January 2016, while speaking at an inter-regional forum of the All-Russia People’s Front, Vladimir Putin denounced Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, for “brutally executing Russia’s last Tsar along with all his family and servants”. Putin further criticized Lenin, accusing him of placing a “time bomb” under the state, and sharply denouncing brutal repressions by the Bolshevik government, murdering thousands of priests and innocent civilians.

In the weeks leasing up to the 100th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of Nicholas II, rumours in the Russian media speculated that Putin would attend the Patriarchal Liturgy, to be performed by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill on the night of 16/17 July 2018. Sadly, this was not to be, instead, he flew to Helsinki, where he met with US president Donald Trump. More than 100,000 people from across Russia and around the world descended on the Ural capital to honour the memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs.

Putin’s presence on the eve of the centenary, would have indeed been an historic event, one which perhaps would further seal post-Soviet Russia’s condemnation of the Bolsheviks for committing regicide, but also shedding the century of myths and lies, which perpetuated during the Soviet years.

Sadly, the 100th anniversary of the Romanovs’ deaths passed with little notice in Russia. The Russian government ignored the anniversary, as it surprisingly did the year before, when Russia marked the 100th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. No prominent state museums or venues hosted events to mark the anniversary. The few exhibitions and other events organized were tellingly modest.

PHOTO: On 17th July 2019, members of the State Duma for the first time observed a minute of silence in memory of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II, and all those killed in the Civil War (1917-1922)

On a more positive note, on 17th July 2019 – Russia’s State Duma for the first time observed a minute of silence in memory of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II and all those killed in the Civil War. (1917-1922)

According to Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, “reconciliation begins when we all understand that this cannot be repeated and this is unacceptable.”

“Today we are making a proposal to honour the memory of the last Russian tsar, to honour the memory of the innocent victims – all those who died in the crucible of the Civil War,” the speaker addressed his colleagues, who after these words, rose from their seats.

It should come as no surprise that members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, did not comply with the moment of silence.

The fact that this is the first time in the history of Russia’s State Duma, that they honoured the memory of Nicholas II is truly unprecedented! The minute of silence was repeated in 2020 and will be repeated each year from hereon.

Also, in 2019, in an unprecedented move, the Russian media reported that President Putin had urged the Russian Orthodox Church to “reach a verdict soon” on the Ekaterinburg Remains.  

PHOTO: portraits of Nicholas II and Vladimir Putin, by the contemporary Georgian artist David Datuna

© Paul Gilbert. 15 March 2021

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If you enjoy my articles, news stories and translations, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

Putin, the Church and the last Tsar

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Russian President Vladimir Putin

Since coming to power in 1999, Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church and the symbols of Imperial Russia

Today, the Romanovs are the subject of a rather unusual debate between two powers that have reconciled in Putin’s Russia: the Church and the State.

For more than two decades, the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) – Patriarch Alexei II (1929-2008) and Patriarch Kirill (2009-present) – both refused to recognize the remains found in the vicinity of Ekaterinburg as those belonging to the Imperial family.

Even after successive DNA tests, the ROC prevented the bones of Tsesarevich Alexei and his sister Grand Duchess Maria from being buried with the rest of the their family in the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Petersburg.

The issue made headlines again in July, when the Russian Investigative Committee, the country’s top criminal investigation body, confirmed that, after 37 new forensic analyzes, it was possible to conclude – again – that the bones belonged to members of the Imperial family.

“Based on the numerous findings of the experts, the investigation came to the conclusion that the remains belong to Nicholas II, his family and their retainers,” said a committee spokesperson.

But why does Russia’s leading criminal investigation body continue to reconfirm facts related to a homicide that happened more than a century ago?

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President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia

A long way

The whereabouts of the remains of the Imperial family were one of the best kept secrets during the Soviet period.

Only in 1979 did a geologist with an amateur detective streak, Alexander Avdonin, discover the first bones in the vicinity of Porosenkov Log, near Ekaterinburg.

Citing fear of reprisals from the regime, he reburied them where he found them and kept them there until 1991, after the Soviet Union disintegrated.

An extensive investigation and a series of DNA tests (for which even Prince Philip donated blood) proved that the bones belonged to Nicholas II, his wife, three of their five children and four retainers who were also murdered with the Imperial family.

One of the big questions Russia was asking at the time was where were the remains of the Imperial couple’s other two children. Anastasia’s whereabouts were also cause for speculation, but evidence has since proven that she died along with her family.

“In 1998, after a five-year investigation, the Russian government decided to bury the bones in the Romanovs family tomb in St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, as a political gesture of reconciliation and atonement for the crimes committed in the Soviet period”, says Marina Alexandrova, a professor at the University of Texas, in the United States.

The Holy Synod, the governing body of the Orthodox Church, however, opposed the decision and called for a more thorough investigation before the burial.

“Due to the political motivation of the event and the absence of consultation with the Russian Orthodox Church, the patriarch did not participate in the ceremony and rejected the test results,” says the professor.

The country’s president at the time, Boris Yeltsin, challenged the Church and gave the green light for the funeral. The act was the background of great friction that marked the Yeltsin government and the head of the Orthodox Church – at the time still weakened by decades of Soviet oppression.

Yeltsin would resign shortly afterwards, on the night of December 31, 1999, leaving the post in the hands of his then prime minister, a former KGB agent who had become his discreet shadow: Vladimir Putin.

A new stage in the relationship between State and Church then began.

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Emperor Nicholas II and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin, the Church and the last tsar

As Pablo de Orellana, professor at King’s College London, UK, explains, the beginning of Putin’s government marked a new phase, of “rescuing” the Romanov dynasty, which went beyond the golden double-headed eagles and other symbols of Imperial Russia.

“In his administration, some traditions of Tsarist Russia were re-instituted,”  he points out, “But I believe that one of the most important elements in this regard is the rebirth of the Orthodox Church, which has returned to being as powerful as before and is now recognized as the country’s official religion.”

In a referendum held in June to determine whether Putin would remain in power until 2035, Russians also voted Orthodoxy the country’s official religion, which was seen as a consolidation of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin.

And it is in this new context that the Romanovs become key figures for the powers. “The Russian Imperial family is vital for the current regime and for the nationalist narrative that drives it, because it is the connection between Russia’s past and present, between the before and after of the Soviet regime,” says De Orellana.

“For the Church, the Romanovs’ theme is central, because the Russian Orthodox Church is part of the Imperial family and the Imperial family is part of the Church.”

Since Putin’s rise to power, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has proclaimed the last tsar, his wife and children, as saints, which was viewed with fear in a country where the Imperial family are still victims of a century of myths and lies, much of which are based on Bolshevik propaganda.

In addition to canonization, the Church also decided to build a grand church on the spot where the family was murdered in Ekaterinburg.

But one theme remained an obstacle: the authenticity of the remains of the last tsar.

“The Russian Church has been reluctant to recognize the bones as belonging to the Romanov family since they were officially exhumed in 1991 near Ekaterinburg,” says Alexandrova.

“And although multiple DNA tests and forensic analyzes in Russia and other countries have shown that they do indeed belong to the Imperial family, their doctor and three faithful servants, the issue remains controversial to this day.”

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Alexei and Maria

The remains of the tsar’s two other children who were not found with the family were not discovered until many years later, in 2007.

“DNA tests carried out both inside and outside Russia have confirmed that they are the remains of Alexei and Maria,” says the professor at the University of Texas.

“The Russian Orthodox Church, however, again refused to acknowledge the discovery and denied the burial in the family tomb.”

In the years that followed, the boxes containing 44 bone fragments remained on dusty shelves in the Russian State Archives. In December 2015, their remains were transferred to the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, where they remain to this day.

“Their remains have not yet been buried, which, ironically, runs counter to orthodox tradition in general.”

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Members of the Imperial family were exhumed so that new DNA tests could be performed

New investigations

In 2008, the Russian Supreme Court officially rehabilitated the Imperial family and recognized that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression.

Two years later, another Russian court ordered the investigation into the murder to be reopened, which was in charge of the country’s top criminal investigation body.

In 2015, as determined by instances of the Orthodox Church, the remains of the Imperial family were once again exhumed and subjected to DNA tests, which confirmed again that it was the Tsar and his family – including Alexei and Maria.

The funeral of the last Romanovs was scheduled to take place in October of this year, but the Church asked to postpone the ceremony again to conduct an investigation of its own. “To date, no results have been announced,” says Alexandrova.

On the eve of the centenary of the massacre in 2018, the Russian government announced that the new investigation had once again confirmed that the bones belonged to the Romanovs. This year, again on a date close to the anniversary, they again released the findings.

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The reasons for the debate

According to De Orellana, the dispute over the authenticity of the remains found in Ekaterinburg shows how, during the Putin government, the Church once again became a “legitimizing institution” – and that, therefore, “also legitimizes what one wants to tell about history. “.

“We see this in how the Church on several occasions had the final say, as in the question of where the bodies will be”, he points out.

In this sense, the expert believes that the position of the church in the case of the Romanovs generates a delicate political conflict.

“The Putin government needs to end the story, it needs the bodies to be ‘found’ also symbolically, ‘to bring them home’ and to have a place where they can be celebrated.”

“All this reconstruction is important, because Putin reinvented Russian nationalism based on the same nationalist theories as the tsars. In other words, it is not just an obsession to demonstrate that the bones actually belong to the last Tsar and his family, but an effort to establish continuity between the past and today’s Russia”, he adds.

Roman Lunkin, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, a state organization, assesses that both the government and the Church are involved in a mutual process of revisionism of the history of Tsarism for “their own benefit”.

“The Russian Church does not want to recognize that the remains belong to the Imperial family, because there is a risk of internal division as a consequence of this,” he ponders.

According to Alexandrova, according to orthodox beliefs, it is a serious sin to pray before “false images”. The church, for its part, is reluctant to accept the result of the investigations carried out until today on the grounds that it was not invited to participate in the process.

There are still some people who believe that members of the Imperial family had managed to escape and live in secrecy in Europe and the United States.

“They think that what happened in 1918 was a ritual murder by Bolsheviks of Jewish origin. There is also a movement that sees Nicholas II as a Christlike figure who died for the sins of the Russians.”

Even if these movements are not really popular, he says, they would be strong enough to cause repercussions in the media, something that the head of the Church would certainly like to avoid.

“For the Church, the murder of the Imperial family is a symbol of all the evil of the Soviet period, of Satanism and of Marxist ideology. For the State, however, the Soviet period is also a period of victories – and the last tsar is not an example of a strong leader, “says Lunkin.

“So it is evident that the glorification of the Imperial family means different things for both the state and the church.”

© Paul Gilbert. 10 August 2020

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs

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This 3-part series by Matthew Dal Santo was published in The Interpreter, which features in-depth analysis & expert commentary on the latest international events, published daily by the Lowry Institute.

Although dated – originally published in July 2016 – it is still an interesting and thought provoking read.

He is the author of the forthcoming book, A Tsar’s Life for the People: The Romanovs and the Redemption of Putin’s Russia, to be published by Princeton University Press.

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs (Part 1) published 16th July 2016

Official treatment of Stalin reflects the result of this impasse, neither to suppress nor promote popular support for his legacy.

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs (Part 2) published 17th July 2016

If there’s a Russian leader whose reputation has been unequivocally rehabilitated during the Putin era, it’s Nicholas II.

Putin’s plan to restore the Romanovs (Part 3) published 18th July 2016

Russian monarchists are remarkably fond of observing that nobody says Russia’s next tsar must be a Romanov.

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Dr. Matthew Dal Santo has been a Danish Council Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen since 2014. He writes on conservatism as an ideological programme in modern Russia, with a special interest in Russian foreign policy. He has written analysis and commentary on Russian and European affairs for The Australian Broadcasting Casting Corporation (ABC) and has appeared on Radio National’s Counterpoint programme.

His work has been published by The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (Canberra, Australia), The Lowy Institute (Sydney, Australia), The Center for the National Interest (Washington, D.C.) , The Nation (New York), and The Spectator Australia. He travels frequently to Russia and is currently writing a book (provisionally entitled The Romanovs, 1917 and the Redemption of Putin’s Russia) on the cult of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and on how ordinary Russians see their country’s place in the world in the approach of the 2017 centenary of the Russian Revolution.

He studied history and European languages (BA first-class honours and University Medal) at the University of Sydney (1999-2004) and graduate-level history (MPhil, PhD) at the University of Cambridge (2004-9). In 2007, he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and taught as an Associate Lecturer in Cambridge’s Faculty of History. In 2011, he entered the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Matthew speaks Russian, French, Italian, and Danish. He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, with his wife and daughter.

© Paul Gilbert. 3 August 2020