Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Colonel Boris Jordan's Flag Comes Home

For MTThe St. George standard that the tsar granted to the Lancer Guard Regiment in 1876.
An imperial military flag that financier Boris Jordan's grandfather helped take on a trek across Europe and then to the United States may be presented by U.S. President George W. Bush to President Vladimir Putin during their June 1 summit in St. Petersburg.

The St. George standard, which Tsar Alexander II granted to His Majesty's Lancer Guard Regiment in 1876, was scheduled to arrive in a diplomatic pouch at the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg on Monday or Tuesday, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.

The return to Russia's imperial capital ends a perilous journey that included stops in Turkey, Yugoslavia and Germany. The flag symbolizes the proud and glorious history of an elite unit of Russian cavalrymen who fought under it in several wars. It was the highest symbol of military honor for the unit, and its loss in battle was punishable by court martial.

The standard is facing one more, and probably last, peril: the confusion of last-minute preparations for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations this month.

As of Monday, it remained unclear who would hand over the flag, which is valued at $300,000, and when the event would take place.

The original plan called for a pomp-filled ceremony complete with a military band and honor guard at the Hermitage Museum next Monday, said museum deputy director Georgy Vilinbakhov, who is Russia's official Master of Heraldry. The ceremony would coincide with the reopening of the museum's 1812 Gallery after a lengthy restoration.

However, when Culture Ministry officials learned that Queen Elizabeth II planned to present an imperial military flag to Putin in Britain in June, they proposed that the handover of Jordan's flag be elevated to the presidential level, said Olga Barkovets, a historian and aide to Jordan who has worked on the standard's return for months.

Discussions between U.S. and Russian officials about the proposal were continuing Monday.

"But one way or the other, the handover will take place," Barkovets said.

Jordan owns the Sputnik investment fund and is perhaps best known for his two-year stint as the head of NTV television.

His grandfather, lancer guard Colonel Boris Jordan, took the standard to the United States shortly after World War II. The younger Jordan, following the wishes of his late father, Alexis, started laying the groundwork to bring the flag home last year.

Barkovets said Alexis Jordan brought up the flag in a conversation with her last summer, telling her that the last members of the lancer guard regiment had placed it in a U.S. Army museum for safekeeping.

"There are so few of the officers' immediate heirs left," he told her. "Everything has to be returned to Russia. Otherwise we will die and there will be nobody left to do it."

After Alexis Jordan died in August, his widow found documents tracing the flag's history and showing it was at the U.S. Cavalry Museum in Fort Riley, Kansas.

The documents, copies of which were obtained by The Moscow Times, offer a glimpse of the dramatic last days of a regiment founded in 1640. The cavalry officers rallied around the flag through the 1918-22 Civil War. When they fled the Crimea in 1920, they took it with them as a holy symbol of their loyalty to an imperial Russia they had hoped to restore. They took the flag to Turkey and later to Yugoslavia.

World War II posed a dilemma for the officers. While some joined the anti-Nazi resistance or declared their loyalty to the Soviet Union, many others considered Hitler's Germany to be a friendly force because it was fighting a common enemy: Soviet Russia. Some lancer guards, including Colonel Boris Jordan, joined the Russian Guard Group in Yugoslavia, which wore Russian uniforms but took orders from the Waffen SS.

In 1944, the officers began to fear that the standard would fall into Soviet hands and sent it to Germany, where it was lost in the chaos of the war's final days, Colonel Jordan wrote in an account dated 1953.

The account describes in touching detail how the officers, who were scattered about refugee camps and feared they would be repatriated forcefully to Stalin's Russia, finally found the flag in the U.S.-controlled Bavarian National Museum in 1945. Colonel Jordan and his fellow officers pleaded with the U.S. occupation forces for three years to regain the flag, which Moscow also had the right to claim.

"Chaos reigned in the whole country. Nobody knew what to do with the millions of foreigners," Colonel Jordan wrote. "The Americans just couldn't get it through their heads why scores of Russians didn't want to return to their homeland."

In February 1948, U.S. authorities released the banner to Jordan, who brought it to a refugee camp for a church service.

"Everybody in attendance had tears on their eyes as they came up to kiss the standard," Jordan wrote. "But it was especially touching to see the attitudes of the simple Russian people who had made their way out of Soviet Russia."

Shortly afterward, with the help of a U.S. officer friend, the flag was shipped to New York and placed in the Russian Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior.

The church was later closed, and in 1975 the seven surviving members of the Association of Officers of H.M. Lancer Guards voted to place the standard in the U.S. Cavalry Museum "until the monarchy is restored in Russia and a request by a legal representative of the Royal Government for the return of the standard to Russia is made."

The Jordan family, however, decided not to wait that long.

"A restoration of the monarchy today is absurd for Russia. What is most important is that the Soviet regime is no longer in place," Barkovets said.

The U.S. military agreed earlier this year to grant a request from the Jordan family, the Culture Ministry and the Hermitage Museum to return the flag.

"It's a flag that has historical significance for Russia, and it should be repatriated to Russia," William McKale, director of the U.S. Cavalry Museum, said by telephone from Fort Riley, Kansas.

He said the Jordan family applied to the museum last year and he referred them to the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Fort McNair, Washington.

The center's chief, Brigadier General John Brown, gave his stamp of approval.

Vilinbakhov at the Hermitage praised the Jordan family and the U.S. authorities for their efforts to return the banner.

"You could say that the standard is returning to a family of Russian regiment banners," he said.

The Hermitage has Russia's biggest collection of pre-revolutionary banners. The 6,500 flags include about 600 trophy banners from Europe and 2,000 Asian military insignia, Vilinbakhov said.

"The standard is a part of Russian history," Boris Jordan said Saturday through a spokesman.

"I am glad that my family was able to help its return to Russia, to St. Petersburg. It is coming home, where it is needed and expected."