Russian actor Artur Smolyaninov was the star of one of of President Vladimir Putin favorite movies – about a Soviet unit making a last stand 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 forces occupied for a decade. He has often been described as the Russian Rambo, a nod to American action movies starring Sylvester Stallone.
Much has changed since then. Smolyaninov is in exile and in a recent interview he said he was ready to fight alongside Ukraine and kill Russian soldiers. He told Novaya Gazeta last week: “I only feel hatred towards people on the other (Russian) side of the front line. And if I was there in the field, there would be no mercy.
He said that a former colleague had left to fight on the Russian side. “Would I shoot him? Without a doubt! Do I keep my options open to go and fight for Ukraine? Absolutely! It’s the only way for me. And if I had to go 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 investigative commission, also ordered the opening of a criminal case against Smolyaninov.
Smolyaninov was very critical of campaign in Ukraine. He recently recorded a Soviet-era song – Temnaya Noch (Dark Night) – with reworked lyrics.
It included the lines: “Look, occupier, How the maternities are without electricity, How the children are sitting in shelters. And how the books are drowned. The Russian night has reached schools and hospitals.
Another verse refers to “a bunker, where a Führer hides, and a bald little cook feeds the Führer with a spoon”. The cook was a reference to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who heads the Wagner Private Military Company and has won catering contracts with the Kremlin.
When he first spoke out against the war last summer, Smolyaninov, who was in Russia at the time, told an interviewer that it was “a disaster, everything fell apart: ashes, smoke, stench, tears”.
Last October, a Moscow district court fined Smolyaninov 30,000 rubles ($430) for discrediting the Russian armed forces. That same month he left Russia and is believed to be in Latvia now.
Smolyaninov told how he crossed the Russian border into Norway. “I crossed the border on foot… You just walk 30 meters and there are completely different people in front of you. They are so sweet. Even the look is different.
The film “Devyataya Rota” was so popular that Putin hosted the cast and crew, including Smolyaninov, at his residence outside Moscow in November 2005, where he held 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.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported at the time that Putin said the film “takes the soul, you immerse yourself in the film”.
“The film is very strong, such a serious thing about the war and the people who found themselves in extreme conditions in this war and showed themselves to be very dignified,” Putin said at the time.
Russia’s Justice Ministry has added several more to its list of foreign agents in recent days, including music critic Artemy Troitsky and several journalists.
“These people were entered into the register under Article 7 of the Russian law on controlling the activities of persons under foreign influence,” according to the Russian news agency TASS.
It was also reported over the weekend that two well-known theater actors were fired from Moscow’s Chekhov 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 sentiments”.
The official TASS news agency confirmed that the duo had been fired, without giving a reason.