Putin’s unexpected support for archaeologists may be warning to construction industry

He ordered the governor of Novgorod to make builders wait until archaeologists had finished excavating

Russian President Vladimir Putin has extended a helping hand to besieged archaeologists excavating the medieval capital of Novgorod in their fight to stop construction companies from destroying archaeological sites and remains. Mr Putin made a surprise visit to Novgorod in July and, after a brief inspection, ordered the governor of the region, Mikhail Prusak, a friend of the construction lobby, to make builders wait until archaeologists had finished their excavations. Novgorod, which dates to the eighth century, was a capital of ancient Rus, the first major state of the Eastern Slavs. In the middle of the 12th century Novgorod became a powerful, independent republic. Some believe that Mr Putin is less interested in archaeology and more concerned with sounding a warning bell to the construction industry. One of the president’s key political objectives is to provide middle income Russians with their own apartments but developers have yet to embrace the idea of affordable housing.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 150 September 2004