Russian president Vladimir Putin took a few minutes during his day last Wednesday to pray for the souls of Russian soldiers who have died in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Putin visited Moscow’s Church of the Holy Trinity, a church in the “Sparrow Hills” area of southwest Moscow, in the vicinity of Moscow State University.
Putin was in Moscow to greet former Prime Minister of Japan Yoshiro Mori at the Kremlin. Mori was visiting Moscow while participating in a Russian-Japanese Forum. The Russian leader normally works at the official presidential residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, a Moscow suburb. The Moscow Kremlin is used primarily for state and diplomatic functions.
The Bolshevik’s code name for Vladimir Lenin during the days of the revolution was “Sparrow,” and during the early Soviet years, Sparrow Hills was known as “Lenin Hills.” It is one of the highest points in Moscow, rising some 660 ft (200 m) above sea level.
The church that Putin visited sits on the hill with an expansive view of Moscow, near an observation platform overlooking the city and Luzhniki Stadium. The stadium was built for the 1980 Olympic games. The visit by Mr. Putin was brief, just long enough to light several candles, and say a prayer for the souls of Russian soldiers who had died while fighting in Eastern Ukraine.
Putin told reporters that he lit candles for “those who died defending people in Novorossiya.” The term Novorossiya (Новороссия) means “new Russia” and is a resurrected term from the days of Russian imperialism. Putin has recently hinted that he views Ukraine not as a state, but as a territory of Russia, and some say this means that he believes Ukraine is subject to being reclaimed.
Even while Putin prayed for his dead soldiers, Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, voiced his concern of a Russian takeover to attendees of a security conference in Kiev on Saturday. Yatsenyuk said that only NATO could defend Ukraine from eventually being swallowed
by Russia. Like many observers in the region, Yatsenyuk believes that Putin will not stop until achieving a “land bridge” from the current Russian border, extending south to Odessa, and on to the Crimean Peninsula. This would cut Ukraine off from access to the Black Sea, and to the vast deposits of natural resources held there. The security conference is known as the Yalta European strategy conference, however the city of Yalta is in Crimea: a part of Ukraine’s territory annexed by Russia in the spring.
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko told security experts at the same conference, that if the cease-fire holds he would like to focus on rebuilding Ukraine’s battered economy. Poroshenko expressed confidence that EU sanctions against Russia are working.
Russia has responded with reverse sanctions, and in recent days Russian officials announced plans for new rail routes to bypass Ukraine. Rail remains the most favored form of passenger travel in Eastern Europe, in addition to transporting raw materials and manufactured goods. Rail lines from Russia extend deep into Asia to the East, including Mongolia, China, and North Korea. Vast rail lines also connect Russia to the European West. According to the Moscow Times, the new rail bypass project will be listed in Russia’s budget for 2015.
Last Friday, the European Union firmed up sanctions on Russian banks, senior politicians, and rebel leaders. That did not stop Russian forces from breaking the cease fire, as separatists continued to pound the Donetsk airport which is currently held by the Ukrainian army. Ukraine’s forces there are almost completely surrounded.
In Moscow, Putin prays for Russian soldiers lost in the fighting. In Kiev, Ukraine’s president Poroshenko hopes for peace. Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches to see what will happen.
By Jim Hanemaayer