Thursday, June 9, 2016

Kremlin’s Use of Tsarist Heirs Highlights Rather than Reduces Russian Divisions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 9 – The Kremlin has sought to use the Romanov dynasty and its surviving leader, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirova, to symbolize “the overcoming of all the dramatic contradictions of Russian history” in the 20th century, Aleksandr Soldatov says. But the difficulties that family and its representative still present in fact only highlight those divisions.

            In a “Novaya gazeta” commentary, the Russian political researcher says these problems complicate the situation especially since Vladimir Putin has personally taken an interest in “’the tsar’s family’” in large part because Maria Vladimirova is prepared to support everything the Kremlin leader does (

            After the Bolsheviks murdered Nicholas II, the Tsarevich Aleksey and other members of the imperial family in 1918, surviving Russian monarchists in the emigration supported a variety of possible pretenders to the throne; but most of those died in the 1920s, such as Nikolay Nikolayevich, and today are of only historical interest.

            Their descendants now, Soldatov says, are in fact “comic figures who do not aspire to any political power or moral influence in Russia.”  But “nonetheless,” for its own purposes including boosting the sagging interest of the Russian public in Crimea, “the Kremlin continues to sponsor” some of them, first and foremost Maria Vladimirova.

            But as both historians and most Russian monarchists know, there are real problems with viewing her as a legitimate successor. Her grandfather, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, a cousin of the last tsar, not only entered into a morganatic marriage but put on a red cockade in 1917 to appeal to the revolutionary left. Most Russian monarchists never forgave him for that.

            In Germany in 1924, Kirill nonetheless proclaimed himself emperor and was recognized as such by some leaders of the Russian emigration and Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Good relations between that church and this branch of the Romanovs were maintained until Kirill’s son Vladimir began his rapprochement with the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1990s.

            After Kirill died in 1938, the 20-year-old Vladimir became head of the family but unlike his father did not style himself emperor but only grand duke. Of course, as Soldatov notes, he could have that title only if it was the case that his father had been emperor. But Vladimir quickly added to his problems.

            On the one hand, he supported the Germans during World War II against the Soviet Union and lived in Spain where he had close ties with the fascist regime of Francisco Franco.  And on the other, he too entered into a morganatic marriage as his father had done by marrying a divorced woman. As a result, none of his children could succeed to the title even if he had.

            In 1953, Vladimir Kirillovich had a daughter, Maria, who now styles herself as the head of “the Russian Imperial House.”  But when she came of age, she also entered into a morganatic marriage with a Prussian prince. By all the laws of the Gotha and Russia, her offspring at best could be accepted only as a Prussian princess rather than a Russian grand duchess.

            Indeed, Soldatov points out, some who don’t like her refer to her as “Gosha Gogenzollern,” but since her father died in 1992, she has been head of the family. In the 1990s, it appeared she would fade even as Russians became more interested in their past. The most prominent Romanov at that time was Prince Nikolay Nikolayevich who met with Boris Yeltsin.

            But when Putin came to power, the Moscow investigator says, “the Kremlin turned toward the very doubtful but ambitious and therefore flexible ‘tsar’s family’ of Maria Vladimirova,” who as a result of Russian government propaganda became “part of a new political myth in Russia.”

            After the collapse of the Soviet Union, some in Russia played with the idea of restoring the monarchy, albeit in a constitutional rather than autocratic form.  One who did so was Anatoly Sobchak who encouraged rumors that his daughter would marry Maria Vladimirova’s son Georgy, who was born in 1981, and the two would become Russia’s “Charles and Diana.” But in the event that didn’t happen.

            Georgy’s life and career provide the latest examples of just how complicated and difficult the Romanovs are for Russia today. Things were more or less fine until Putin invaded Ukraine. Georgy accepted a Kremlin sinecure as an advisor to Norilsk Nickel and that company’s representative in Europe.

            But in the spring of 2014, he gave up that position and set up a Brussels PR firm, Romanov and Partners.  He doesn’t speak about Russian issues, but it appears likely that he doesn’t share his mother’s devotion to Putin. That makes for problems if there were any talk of this branch of the Romanovs regaining the throne.

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