Russian actor Artur Smolyaninov starred in one of President Vladimir Putin’s favorite films, about a Soviet unit making a last-ditch effort against Afghan insurgents. Now he is classified as a “foreign agent” and is under criminal investigation.
Smolyaninov was the hero of “Devyataya Rota” (The 9th Company), a Russian feature film released in 2005. He played the role of the last soldier standing during a battle in Afghanistan, which Soviet troops occupied for ten years. He was often described as the Russian Rambo, a nod to American action movies starring Sylvester Stallone.
Since then a lot has changed. Smolyaninov is in exile and said in a recent interview that he was willing to fight on the side of Ukraine and kill Russian soldiers. He told Novaya Gazeta last week: “I feel nothing but hatred for the people on the other (Russian) side of the front line. And if I were there on the ground, there would be no mercy.
He said a former colleague had gone to fight on the Russian side. ‘Would I shoot him? No doubt! Am I keeping my options open to fight for Ukraine? Absolute! This is the only way for me. And if I went to this war, I would only fight for Ukraine.”
A few days later, the Russian Ministry of Justice classified the actor as a foreign agent.
Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Commission of Inquiry, also ordered the opening of a criminal case against Smolyaninov.
Smolyaninov is highly critical of the campaign in Ukraine. He recently recorded a Soviet-era song – Temnaya Noch (Dark Night) – with reworked lyrics.
It contained the rules: “Look, occupier, how maternity homes are without power, how children are in shelters. And how books drown. The Russian night has reached schools and hospitals.”
Another verse referred to “a bunker, where a Fuhrer hides, and a bald little cook, feeds the Fuhrer with a spoon.” The cook was a reference to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who runs the private military company Wagner and won catering contracts from the Kremlin.
When he first spoke out against the war last summer, Smolyaninov, who was in Russia at the time, told an interviewer it was “a catastrophe, everything collapsed: ash, smoke, stench, tears.”
Last October, a Moscow district court fined Smolyaninov 30,000 rubles ($430) on charges of discrediting the Russian armed forces. That same month he left Russia and is believed to be currently in Latvia.
Smolyaninov told how he had crossed the Russian border into Norway. “I crossed the border on foot… You only walk 30 meters and there are completely different people in front of you. They are so soft. Even the appearance is different.”
The film “Devyataya Rota” was so popular that Putin welcomed the actors and crew, including Smolyaninov in November 2005 at his residence outside Moscow, where he put on a special screening of the film.
The Kremlin said that after seeing the film, Putin spoke with director Fyodor Bondarchuk and the main actors, including Smolyaninov.
The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported at the time that Putin stated that the film “grabs the soul, you immerse yourself in the film”.
“The film is very strong, so serious about the war and people who were in extreme conditions in this war and showed themselves very dignified,” Putin said at the time.
Russia’s Justice Ministry has added a number of others to its list of foreign agents in recent days, including music critic Artemy Troitsky and several journalists.
“These people have been placed on the register under Article 7 of the Russian Law on the Control of the Activities of Persons Under Foreign Influence,” said the Russian state news agency TASS.
It was also reported this weekend that two well-known theater actors had been fired from the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater for criticizing the war in Ukraine. Dmitry Nazarov and his wife Olga Vasilyeva were fired by the theater’s artistic director Konstantin Khabensky, who accused the actors of “anti-Russian sentiment.”
The state news agency TASS confirmed that the duo had been fired without explanation.