One of Russia’s leading conductors led a St Petersburg symphony orchestra in a concert in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on Thursday, in a bold propaganda stunt celebrating Russia’s role in recapturing the city from Islamic State. Valery Gergiev, a vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin, conducted the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra in the ancient city’s famous amphitheatre for an audience of Syrian and Russian soldiers as well as journalists.
Addressing the orchestra and audience by video link, Mr Putin said the concert stood as a memorial to victims of terrorism and a sign of hope that the ancient city might be revived. “This represents hope not only for the revival of Palmyra, as the heritage of all mankind, but also hope for ridding modern civilization of the terrible plague of international terrorism,” he said.
The concert was carefully coordinated with Russia’s annual Victory Day celebrations, the annual holiday on May 9 that marks the end of the Second World War but has also become a celebration of modern Russian military prowess. Earlier on Thursday the body of a Russian soldier killed during thebattle for Palmyra was repatriated in a televised ceremony.
Alexander Prokhorenko, a special forces officer, was killed while coordinating airstrikes on Isil positions near Palmyra in March. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) captured Palmyra from Syrian government forces in May 2015. During its ten month occupation of the city the terror group destroyed several of the ancient site’s monuments and used the amphitheatre for mass executions.
Syrian government forces closely backed by Russian airstrikesrecaptured Palmyra from Isil in March, in a major symbolic victory. Key Kremlin players, including culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, flew into Syria for the event. The concert also featured cellist Sergei Roldugin, a life-long friend of Vladimir Putin who was recently revealed as the owner of several off shore companies in the Panama Papers leaks.
Mr Gergeiv has a history of triumphant victory concerts. In August 2008 he conducted the Mariinsky in a performance outside the bombed out parliament building of the self proclaimed republic of South Ossetia, marking Russia’s crushing of Georgian forces there in a five day war.