08/29/2015, 00.00
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The Cossacks of Saint Petersburg deny involvement in the removal of a bas-relief depicting Mephistopheles

by Nina Achmatova
According to the head of the group, a letter claiming responsibility is the act of agent provocateurs. Initially blamed on religious motives, the latter is still shrouded in doubt. For the Orthodox Church, it is understandable.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Cossacks of Saint Petersburg have denied responsibility for the removal from the facade of a historic building of a century-old bas-relief depicting Mephistopheles. The action has raised a storm among ordinary Russians and political leaders alike.

In a letter to the local Fontanka agency, a man calling himself Denis Gorchin – who claimed to be a member of a group called ‘Cossacks of St. Petersburg’ – said that the controversial initiative was necessary because of the proximity of the devil image to a new nearby Orthodox Church under construction. However, it appears that no one by the name of Gorchin has ever been a member of the group.

"I know [the names of] all the community and the Cossack diaspora. We have no Cossacks with such name and surname; those are provocateurs," St Petersburg's Orthodox Cossack leader Andrei Polyakov told Kommersant.

The case is still shrouded in doubt. Some suspect the involvement of the authorities for the way in which the figure was removed from the historic building.

Meanwhile, prosecutors on Thursday opened a probe into destruction of cultural heritage, which carries a jail term of up to two years.

Residents also launched an online petition urging Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika to intervene and track down the culprits.

The Cossacks of Saint Petersburg is not new to such often blatantly criminal actions. in the past, it was blamed for breaking the windows of the museum dedicated to writer Nabokov, author of the novel Lolita, and for writing ‘pedophile’ on the walls of his house.

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church said the attack was an understandable reaction.

"It's possible to understand the culprit. As a believer, he finds images of a demon disgusting," Orthodox Church spokesman Roman Bagdasarov told the daily Izvestia.

"Mephistopheles embodies evil in this world and this person decided to act, most likely, to kill evil," he said.

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