(Reuters) – Russia’s defence minister has proposed that 18th-century tsarist general Alexander Suvorov, revered for repelling Turkish attacks against Crimea and crushing a revolutionary movement in Poland, be made a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church.
The proposal comes as Russia marks three months since it sent its armed forces into Ukraine, saying it needed to neutralise a security threat and rid it of “fascists” threatening the Russian-speaking population.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has evoked past heroes of Suvorov’s stature to promote the notion that what he calls a “special military operation” is in line with Russia’s glorious military tradition. Ukraine and Western countries dismiss Russia’s arguments as baseless pretexts to seize territory.
“The persona of this great military commander of course draws the attention of many people,” Bishop Pankraty, chairman of the Russian Orthodox synodal commission for the canonization of saints, told TASS news agency.
“Even the defence ministry, and the defence minister himself, have come to us with this issue (canonization).”
He said the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, had promised Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that the question would be examined.
Suvorov’s most storied exploits include defending the northern shore of the Black Sea – including Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 – from Turkish attack during the Russo-Turkish War of 1789-1791, during the reign of Empress Catherine the Great.
Suvorov is also known for leading an assault on a Warsaw suburb to crush the Kosciuszko Uprising and suppressing the Pugachev rebellion of 1773-1775, a peasant revolt that rattled Russia’s imperial regime and nearly led to its demise.
In 1799, as field marshal, he led a celebrated strategic retreat through the Swiss Alps, suffering only minimal losses to vastly more numerous French forces.
In a nationwide address before announcing the start of Russia’s military campaign, Putin used the dismantling of a monument to Suvorov in the Ukrainian city of Poltava as evidence that Ukraine was renouncing its own past.
A similar monument to Suvorov in Switzerland was defaced with paint in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colours last week.
Patriarch Kirill has urged Orthodox believers to support the intervention in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Nick Macfie)