Russia Claims Ownership of 3 Churches in Jerusalem

Russia demanded on Sunday that Israel hand over ownership of three Jerusalem churches to Russia, claiming historical precedent.

The three churches, all located on the Mount of Olives, are the Church of Mary Magdalene (pictured), Chapel of the Ascension, and the Viri Galilaei Church, which is also tied to Christ’s ascension.

Sergei Stepashin, Russia’s former prime minister and the person in charge of reclaiming Russian assets in Israel, said Russia is pursuing a legal claim in Israeli court for possession of the three churches.

The Church of Mary Magdalene is the burial place of Princes Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia as well as Princess Alice of Battenberg, grandmother of England’s King Charles III and Queen Victoria’s great-grand daughter. In 1993, Israel’s Holocaust memorial institution Yad Vashem declared the princess a “righteous among the nations.”

For its part, the Viri Galilaei Church is used as a summer retreat by the Greek Orthodox patriarch.

Russia is still battling to assume ownership of the Alexander Nevsky Church, built at the end of the 19th century adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is considered the most important Russian holding in and around the Old City.

During the 20th century, the church remained under the control of Russian exiles in the West but for years the Kremlin has exerted pressure to gain ownership of it.

In January 2020, Russian president Vladimir Putin pardoned Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American convicted of drug smuggling after hashish was discovered in her suitcase at a Moscow airport on a stopover between flights.

Issachar’s release was thought to have been negotiated in exchange for the transfer of ownership of the Alexander Nevsky church.

“We worked on it for five years; we found all the historical documents, but the situation with Ukraine has cooled things down, and Israel is behaving as is customary in Israel – they decided not to decide, and they are playing games with us,” Stepashin said of Israel’s delay in transferring the property.

Former Russian activist Alex Tenzer has asserted that Russia’s current demands for the three Jerusalem churches stem from internal Russian politics, a means to divert attention from Putin’s military failures in Ukraine.

“The Russians are sensing Netanyahu’s weakness and believes this is a good time to exert pressure,” he said.

“There is also an international aspect as these three churches are also considered sacred in the entire Christian world and especially important to King Charles III, whose mother is buried at the Church of Mary Magdalene,” Tenzer added.



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