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Why Putin invokes the spirit of Potemkin

Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke as Catherine the Great and Potemkin in the Sky series. Right, Russian troops guard the Kakhovka hydroelectric station by the vital dam

Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke as Catherine the Great and Potemkin in the Sky series. Right, Russian troops guard the Kakhovka hydroelectric station by the vital dam

ALAMY

In the most macabre and symbolic act of the war so far, Russian special forces last month secretly entered the cathedral crypt in the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson and removed the dusty bones of an 18th-century Russian prince.

Grigory Potemkin was the lover, favourite and chief adviser of Catherine the Great: soldier, statesman, highly cultured anglophile, a priapic, gambling, church-going libertine and visionary described by one contemporary as “an inconceivable mixture of grandeur and pettiness, laziness and activity, bravery and timidity, ambition and insouciance”.

Above all, Potemkin was an indefatigable empire-builder. In the 1770s, he persuaded the empress to expand Russian rule into what is now southern Ukraine. Kherson was founded by royal decree in 1778 on the high bank of the Dnipro

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