Russians are drawing inaccurate historical parallels with Constantinople





WHEN Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia's federal security service (FSB), spoke to his staff to mark the 90th anniversary of the Soviet secret service last year, he made an odd historic diversion. “Those who study history know that security existed before. Sophia Paleologue married Ivan III, and being a niece of the last Byzantine emperor, paid close attention to questions of security.” Few understood what he was talking about.

The mystery was cleared up a few weeks later, when Russia's state television channel aired an hour-long film, “The Destruction of the Empire: a Byzantine Lesson”. It proved so popular that the channel repeated it and added a 45-minute discussion concluding that Russia could exist only as an Orthodox empire. The author and narrator of the film is Father Tikhon Shevkunov, reputedly the confessor of Vladimir Putin. In recent weeks the film has become one of the most talked-about in Moscow.

Russian rulers often appeal to history to justify their actions. Mr Putin revealed his interest in history from the start of his presidency, when he restored Stalin's anthem as a national hymn. Last year he promoted a school textbook justifying Stalin's brutal rule as a necessary evil. When other ex-Soviet republics commemorate Soviet brutalities, Russia treats this as a distortion of history. This week the foreign ministry held a meeting behind closed doors on the subject of “Counteracting the falsification of history aimed against Russia: a task of national importance”.



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