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A Russian Orchestra Performed In The Ruins Of Palmyra And It Was Something

Valery Gergiev, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, conducted an orchestra at the Roman theater in an ancient Syrian city.

Posted on May 5, 2016, at 1:55 p.m. ET

This is renowned Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who works as the artistic director at the Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre and is a former conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Dennis Grombkowski / Getty Images

But aside from his extraordinary conducting skills, Gergiev is also well-known for backing Russian President Vladimir Putin and aiding in his propaganda.

Sergei Karpukhin/AFP / Getty Images

In 2014 he supported Putin's decision to annex the Crimea. And in 2008 he performed in South Ossetia, Georgia, just after Russia rolled over Georgia in a short-lived war. (He's also godfather to Putin's daughter.)

On Thursday, he took his orchestra to Palmyra, an ancient Roman city in Syria that has been ravaged the ongoing civil war and fight against ISIS, and performed a piece titled "With a Prayer for Palmyra: Music Revives the Ancient Walls."

Gergiev was accompanied by Sergei Roldugin, a cellist who also happens to be best friends with Putin. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Roldugin was named in the Panama Papers last month as the beneficiary of millions of dollars in offshore deals.

The program was introduced by Putin himself, who was broadcast live from Sochi on a huge screen next to the musicians. He commended the musicians for facing "great inconveniences" and "great dangers" to perform inside a war-torn country.

Russian orchestra, Putin's friends, play Syria's Palmyra

Russia has firmly stood behind Syria's President Bashar al-Assad since the beginning of the war. Last year, it started airstrikes inside the country, targeting areas where Western-backed rebels have been operating — all the while reassuring Russians that it was playing an important role in taking on terrorism.

The concert was broadcast live on Russian TV channels, which have portrayed Russia's intervention in Syria as its contribution to fighting terrorism and bringing peace and stability to the war-ravaged country.

The program was attended by members of the Syrian government, civilians, and Russian and Syrian soldiers.

The live telecast often looped between close-ups and overhead drone footage of the concert.

In between, they called on little Syrian girls to sing.

The members of the orchestra all wore black, and played for about an hour on the stage of the Roman theater, which was used by ISIS last year to execute Syrian soldiers the group had captured.

Russian news anchors said the concert was dedicated to a young soldier, Aleksandr Prokhorenko, who was killed while fighting against ISIS in Palmyra. The city was recaptured from ISIS by Syrian soldiers last month, supported by Russian troops and airstrikes.

Gergiev spoke before the performance and said he never imagined he would be able to perform in Palmyra in this ancient amphitheater.

"In the music that you hear today, you will hear our pain and our memory," he said. "There is also great hope in this music. This concert is our appeal for peace ... Our appeal for the entire world to join forces in the fight against terrorism."

You can watch the whole thing here.

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