This news sounds like a joke: by summer, Russia is expected to launch a “Museum of the Liberation of Mariupol.”

Mariupol? Isn’t that the city Putin reduced to a pile of rubble to erase Ukrainian culture? Now he wants to save it? Not exactly.

The Art Newspaper reports that the Kremlin will use the museum as a way of declaring Mariupol a “new territory of Russia.”

What will the display look like? “Memory of the exploits of our compatriots” said Russian cultural minister Olga Lyubimova in a Tass news agency report.

Whose exploits was she referring to, if not Russia’s?

Her answer: “The Armed Forces of Ukraine.” Which makes the victim the aggressor. Which is a little like Zelensky saying to Putin, “Pardon me for getting my eye in the way of your elbow”?

War propaganda

What we’ll get then is another form of Russian propaganda dressed up as a museum. What we’ll get is a justification of the war.

Putin’s idea is to exhibit artefacts making Ukraine out to be what he calls a “Nazi regime.” To that end, the displays will include children’s toys wrecked by the fighting.

Other objects will take in the ammunition used in the war to prove the supposed savagery of Ukrainian soldiers.

To put this news another way, Putin’s museum idea would be like Germany in WWII mounting an exhibit of clothing that Jews removed before entering the gas chambers under a banner “Look what they made Hitler do.”

In any case, the Museum of the Liberation of Mariupol will recast Russia’s siege of Ukraine as a necessary defense against Ukraine aggression.

Is anyone buying this?

Attempting to re-write history is an old Russian habit. I’m thinking of a story in 2000 when the Kremlin took out of circulation one of the 20th century's most important paintings.

"La Danse" by Henri Matisse, called the “Mona Lisa” of modern art, was rushed back to St. Petersburg from a traveling show in Italy after the heir of the man who commissioned the painting claimed it legally was his.

Bolsheviks had confiscated the work and nationalized it at the close of the Russian Revolution in 1918, adding it to Russia’s Hermitage collection.

The painting, depicting a circular whirl of five tromping, twisting figures, was the plum of Russia's traveling show, which also included works by Picasso, Monet and Cézanne – all from the Hermitage.

A reported 573,000 people in Italy had seen "La Danse," including the Pope. The London newspaper The Independent reported that the painting, along with other modern masterworks, were secretly taken to the Vatican one night so he Pontiff could enjoy them.

What’s yours is mine

Taking the painting out of circulation, leaving the world to see it only in reproduction, was no small thing. Viewing a masterwork in reprint is like learning about life from books.

I saw "La Danse" up close at the High Museum in Atlanta when the Olympics played there in 1996. The museum brought together art spanning 75 centuries and 40 countries. Witnessing "La Danse" directly, taking in its dimensions – which are room-size – intensified the experience and made it unforgettable.

But I digress. Russia taking what it wants. Reportedly, it took "La Danse" out of circulation out of fear that heirs of the family that originally owned it would take it back.

Heirs of this family have tried without success to take back art that Russia had seized. It's Russia’s way. It takes.