Russia (Partially) Restores Its Monarchy

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Russian Grand Duke George Mikhailovich Romanov, a descendant of the countries Romanov dynasty wed in a lavish ceremony on Friday, marking the country’s first royal wedding since the Bolshevik revolution overthrew the monarchy a century ago. Grand Duke George Mikhailovich Romanov married his Italian fiancée Rebecca Virginia Bettarini at St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg in front of dozens of royal guests.

Romanov said that the couple chose the former imperial capital for their nuptials because it was the first place in Russia where the family returned following the Soviet collapse. “It is very, very close to our family. St. Petersburg is the history of Russia and the history of the House of Romanov.”

The Russian Orthodox ceremony featured Fabergé wedding rings, Sicilian wine and food provided by catering magnate Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is better known as President Putin’s chef, and by implication the wedding was sanctioned with his approval, especially as it took place in St. Isaacs.

Bettarini, 39, walked the aisle in a white satin gown by designer Reem Acra, who has dressed celebrities Beyoncé, Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Melania Trump among others, and a tiara designed by Chaumet, the official jeweler to Empress Joséphine and Napoléon. Among the 1,500 guests were some 50 royals from European countries including Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, and Italy.

The guest list also reportedly included Sarah Fabergé and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

The wedding ceremony lasted approximately two hours, with guests then invited for a reception at the Russian Ethnographic Museum, symbolically founded by the last Tsar, Nicholas II.

George Romanov, 40, is a descendant of Alexander II. The last tsar, Nicholas II was executed by Bolsheviks along with his family in July 1918 in the city of Yekaterinburg.

He was born in Madrid to Grand Duchess Maria Romanova and the Prussian Prince Franz Wilhelm of Hohenzollern. He spent most of his life living in Spain and France before visiting Russia for the first time in 1992 with his grandfather Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, a trip he said was “filled with emotion.”

His mother is the granddaughter of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, a first cousin of Nicholas II who fled Russia during the revolution and declared himself emperor from exile.

He has worked in the European Parliament and the European Commission and has served as an advisor to the director of Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel. Today, he works on charity projects from the couple’s residence in central Moscow.

He met Bettarini in Brussels during his time at the European Parliament. A daughter of the Italian Ambassador to Belgium, Bettarini has worked as a writer and lobbyist and now works as the director of the Russian Imperial Foundation. In the Russian imperial tradition, Bettarini converted to the Russian Orthodox faith last year and took the name Victoria Romanovna.

Britain’s Queen Victoria and the British royal family and Russia’s Romanov family crossed paths several times: Tsar Alexander II’s only daughter, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna married one of Queen Victoria’s sons – Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, later Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. More notably, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Aix of Hesse, became Russia’s Empress Alexandra Feodorovna as the wife of Alexander’s grandson Tsar Nicholas II.

“A new chapter of our life book together is starting. As a writer I hope that the journey ahead will be full of love, suspense and adventure as the first part of our life book.” Bettarini wrote on Instagram after they went public with their engagement.

Romanov said earlier this year that he hoped the wedding would show “the nice side of Russia, the beauty, the culture and the history.”

The restoration of the Monarchy has been a subject of fierce debate within Russia for decades, with at least two factions claiming the Russian Royal titles, which despite the revolution were never abolished. It appears the line proposed and upheld by Grand Duchess Maria Romanova has been recognised as the succeeding line by the Russian State. A competing claim from Prince Dmitri Romanov ceased when he died, without children, in 2016. The married couple will concentrate on charitable causes as a pastime and no doubt seek to oversee various items of Russian Royal history, with an emphasis on creating a tourist attraction based around this. Any role will remain ceremonial only as todays Russia is a constitutional, semi-Presidential republic. Nonetheless, the symbolism of a Russian Sovereign as apart from the State is important to many Russians and apparently endorsed at the highest levels. With several European royal families at the ceremony it appears that at least part of aristocratic Europe welcomes the couple back to their titles. We at Russia Briefing also wish them well.

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Russia Briefing is written by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm has 28 offices throughout Eurasia, including China, Russia, India, and the ASEAN nations, assisting foreign investors into the Eurasian region. Please contact Maria Kotova at russia@dezshira.com for Russian investment advisory or assistance with market intelligence, legal, tax and compliance issues throughout Asia.

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