12-Foot Vladimir Putin Statue Mysteriously Vanishes Before Grand Unveiling

Cossacks stand behind a bust of Russian President Vladimir Putin which depicts him as a Roman emperor, during its unveiling ceremony in Leningrad region, Russia, May 16, 2015. Another statue of Putin has recently been installed in Russia, only to be moved before its official unveiling. Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Locals in central Russia are wondering how a nearly 12-foot tall bronze statue of President Vladimir Putin has disappeared shortly before its inauguration ceremony.

The statue—the centerpiece of a much bigger monument—stood behind a podium and in front of a massive rendered map of Russia and Crimea, in the country's Kurgan region. Local authorities held the monument's grand opening as planned this week, flying the Russian, Soviet and Imperial flags above it, but the figure of Putin was conspicuously missing.

"It disappeared at one point. He was there and then he wasn't," one local told the BBC's Russian Service, when asked about the bronze Putin. "They brought him and then they took him away two days ago," another added.

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The monument dedicated to "service to the fatherland," according to the pedestal's inscription, is the brainchild of a lawmaker from Putin's United Russia party Alexander Ilyatkov. The member of parliament hailed the bronze figure's resemblance to the president as "striking" but has repeatedly dodged questions about the statue's removal.

На следующей неделе в Курганской области откроют 3,5-метровый памятник Путину. Инициатор — депутат-единоросс. Против создания монумента возражают в Кремле, но патриотичный народный избранник не намерен отказываться от задуманного.https://t.co/0b9M6uDDhb pic.twitter.com/p4MKfE3ASW

— Znak.com (@znak_com) May 24, 2018

"Those that saw it were in awe," Ilyatkov, told the Znak news site, when asked about the figure. "He sat there over the course of a week, then we tried it with the flags, then with the sculpture… and we will leave that for a later date." The official has suggested that authorities moved the figure but did not say why or where, only that it is in a "secluded place," BBC reported.

Without Putin, the complex still features some curious elements. The map above the pedestal includes Crimea as a part of Russia, despite most countries recognizing it as part of Ukraine. This much may not be surprising, but the map also omits Kaliningrad—an undisputed Russian territory—and the South Kuril islands that Russian has claimed and controlled for much longer than Crimea. The choice of flags an attempt to honor both modern Russia and the conflicting sides in Russia's civil war

Ilyatkov has suggested that in Putin's absence, the empty podium in front of the large mapcan now serve as an interactive installation for locals. He explained part of the reason for moving Putin was so "anyone can come and feel part of this triumphant and decisive moment," as though they are in Putin's place.

The last minute decision to remove Putin from the monument may not be as voluntary as Ilyatkov has tried to present it. The lawmaker admitted that he also felt Putin himself would not like the monument. "The president is a modest person," he said. "He does not work for glory."

A Kremlin official speaking to Znak off the record confirmed that the United Russia lawmaker was not supposed to include the Russian leader in the large diorama. "He was urged to cancel the installation of the monument," the official said. "He promised that there would be no figure of Putin himself and that only the map of Russia and the podium would remain."

Putin's administration has not intervened to block other ostentatious tributes to the president, including the installation of a bust in the style of a Roman emperor outside St. Petersburg.