A prominent Russian orchestra is to perform a concerto in the ruins of Palmyra, Syria, just weeks after regime forces backed by the Russian military seized back the ancient city from Islamic State (Isis). Led by controversial maestro Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky theatre symphonic orchestra is to play at the Roman amphitheatre on 5 May, and has previously been used by the Islamist group as background for its execution videos.
The Saint Petersburg-based group said the concert, scheduled for 3pm London time (1500 GMT) and titled Praying for Palmyra, will see the music "bring ancient walls alive". Troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad supported by Russian warplanes recaptured the 2,000-year-old city once known as the "pearl of the desert" on 27 March, 10 months after it was overrun by the jihadi group.
During its rule over the Unesco World Heritage site, IS (Daesh) blew up temples, tombs and shrines that it considered blasphemous, advertising its iconoclastic violence, posting images of the destruction online.
The Kremlin has turned the successful operation into a propaganda symbol of its campaign in Syria, which initially heralded as part of the battle against IS, was soon revealed to have all rebel groups opposing Assad in its cross hairs. Rights groups have also accused Russian and regime fighter jets of war crimes and causing high civilian casualties.
Gergiev, a world-famous conductor, is a renewed supporter of President Putin and has previously performed concerts at controversial venues as a show of support of Kremlin policies. In 2008, he famously led the Mariinsky Theater's orchestra in Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia days after Russia and its southern neighbour fought a brief war over it.
Due to his ties to the Kremlin the 63-year-old director has been the target of protests and disruptions. In November 2013 LGBT rights demonstrators picketed a London concert in protest against Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" laws.