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This file photo taken on June 23, 2012 shows Paris Sorbonne University's professor Oleg Sokolov giving orders to his troops, on the banks of the river Neman in Kaunas, central Lithuania, as he plays Napoleon Bonaparte. Image Credit: AFP

Saint Petersburg: A prominent Saint Petersburg-based Napoleon expert has confessed to murdering his young lover and former student and dismembering her body in a grisly crime that sent shock waves across Russia.

Oleg Sokolov, a 63-year-old history lecturer who received France's Legion d'Honneur in 2003, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of murder after he was hauled out of Saint Petersburg's Moika River with a backpack containing a woman's arms.

Sokolov was reportedly drunk and fell in as he tried to dispose of body parts.

"He has admitted his guilt," Sokolov's lawyer Alexander Pochuev told AFP, adding he regretted what he had done and was now cooperating.

Sokolov reportedly told investigators that he killed his lover during an argument and then sawed off her head, arms and legs.

He planned to dispose of her corpse and later publicly commit suicide dressed up as Napoleon.

Pochuev suggested Sokolov may have been under stress or emotionally disturbed.

"He is an elderly person," he said, adding he was being treated for hypothermia in a local hospital.

He declined to release further details.

The historian is the author of books on French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and had acted as a historical consultant on several films.

Police discovered the decapitated body of Anastasia Yeshchenko, 24, with whom Sokolov had co-authored a number of works, at his home.

Both he and his lover studied French history and liked to wear period costumes, with Sokolov dressing up as Napoleon.

Students described Sokolov as both a talented lecturer who spoke French and could impersonate the French emperor and his generals and a "freak" who called his lover "Josephine" and asked to be addressed as "Sire".

Sokolov was also a member of Lyon-based Institute of Social Science, Economics and Politics (ISSEP).

On Saturday the society announced that he had been stripped of his position on its scientific committee.

"We learn with horror about the atrocious crime of which Oleg Sokolov is allegedly guilty," it said in a statement on Twitter.

As an academic of such standing, the statement added, "we could never imagine that he could commit such an odious act".

ISSEP was founded by Marion Marechal, the niece of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party.