MOSCOW Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened on Friday to stop his own supporters removing the Communist hammer and sickle from one of the most hallowed relics of the country's history.
A draft law passed by the pro-Kremlin lower house of parliament and put on Putin's desk for approval stripped the hammer and sickle device from copies of the "Victory Banner".
The banner was the flag that Soviet troops raised over Berlin's Reichstag building on May 1, 1945, official histories say, an act caught in an iconic photograph and which came to define the victory over Nazi Germany.
Angered by the law, war veterans took to the streets with placards reading "Hands off the Victory Banner!" and the normally docile media accused parliament's lower house of desecrating the memory of the millions of war dead.
Lower house speaker Boris Gryzlov, whose pro-Kremlin United Russia party initiated the law, met Putin and veterans' representatives and announced a climbdown: the hammer and sickle would stay.
"The point was raised that for the veterans this (removing the hammer and sickle) is not acceptable and the president supported that," deputy Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters.
Putin, a former KGB spy who described the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century" has shown a soft spot for attributes of the Soviet past.
A year after taking office he reinstated the stirring melody of the Soviet national anthem, which his predecessor Boris Yelstin had scrapped, and it was set to new words.
The victory banner in the famous Reichstag photograph was, it later emerged, made from a tablecloth by the photographer who recreated the scene after the real banner had been planted. The original is in the Central Museum of the Armed Forces in Moscow.
Those wanting to remove the hammer and sickle from the flags that festoon Russian towns for May 9 Victory Day celebrations said it was out of date. "It does not belong among the symbols of modern Russia," said United Russia MP Franz Klintsevich.
His party did not expect the storm of protest that resulted.
"It is a blasphemy to tinker with history," said Gennady Gudkov, a member of parliament with Fair Russia, a rival pro-Kremlin party that led the campaign against the law.