If you think Russia is bent on regaining her lost empire by meddling in the elections of other nations, it can be argued that her incursions began long ago, in the streets, in the man-made environment - namely architecture.

Show-off architecture

It was in the 15th-century when Moscow's Grand Prince, Ivan, commissioned architects to imitate the grandiose buildings of Imperial Rome and public buildings in other lands followed suit. How else to explain the onion dome of St. Basel's Cathedral in Red Square and the barrel vault dome of the Capitol Building in D.C.

- both patterned after the Pantheon? You may remember a similar comparison made on a Time magazine cover in 2017 in which the Kremlin's Palace of Facets, former home of the Tsars morphed into the White House where the U.S. president lives. This is not to say that there was collusion between the two capitals, but just as Russia took inspiration from the imposing facades of the Roman Empire six centuries ago, the U.S. went after the same thing. (More about that in a moment).

Remaking history

Now in the news is a story of Russian influence in Palmyra, the ancient city of present-day Syria.

Hyperallergic reports that Russia agreed to restore the old city's monuments, a major need owing to Palmyra's lengthy history of invasions and pillaging. Clearly an enormous debt goes to whoever takes on the rebuilding. Art News' makes clear just who is owed in its headline "Russia Cements Power in Syria, Governments Agree to Jointly Restore Ancient City Palmyra." Hyperallergic likewise sees the story as "Russia's expending influence over war-torn Syria" and with "exclusive privileges in restoring Palmyra’s ravaged monuments and artifacts." ISIS added to the ruin during its occupation in Palmyra in 2015.

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It's particularly notable that before signing on to the project, Mikhail Petrovskky, director of the Hermitage Museum, delivered a lecture to the Syrians about the treasure house he directs. And as if to emphasize Russia's influence, he displayed photographs demonstrating parallels between Palmyra and St. Petersburg. Russia's effort to make its presence known in Syria actually began three years ago when symphony conductor Valery Gergiev led a concert set in the ruins.

Putin on the march

Wait, there's more.

Art News reports that a couple of months after Trump withdrew troops from northern Syria, Putin got on the stick lickety-split and began throwing his weight around Syria by turning Palmyra into what Hyperallergic describes as "a stage for his own political theater. Rather than wait for UNESCO to accept the Hermitage’s offer of aid in restoration...the Symphony Orchestra of St Petersburg serenaded the West from its newly demined Roman theater with a ‘peace concert’ that cast Russia as the savior of Western culture.”

Separate but equal

Now, about that parallel between public buildings in D.C.

and in Red Square. It's all in the dome: shaped like an onion in Russia and a barrel-vault shaped like the Pantheon on the Capitol. It's clear that while the eternal city held sway over Red Square architecture, the influence also reached Washington. It can also be argued that Russia led the way.

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