The Russian actor Artur Smolyaninov was the star of nobody President Vladimir Putin Favorite Movies – About a Soviet unit making a last stand against Afghan insurgents. He is now classified as a “foreign agent” and faces a criminal investigation.
Smolyaninov was the hero of “Devyataya Rota” (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 reference to American action films starring Sylvester Stallone.
Much has changed since then. Smolyaninov is in exile, and in a recent interview he said he was ready to fight on the side of Ukraine and kill Russian soldiers. He told Novaya Gazeta last week: “I feel nothing but hatred for 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 that his former classmate had gone to fight on the Russian side. “Am I going to shoot him? Without a doubt! Do I reserve my options to go fight for Ukraine? Absolutely! That’s the only way for me. And if I’m going to fight this war, I’m only going to fight for Ukraine.”
A few days later, the Russian Ministry of Justice classified the actor as a foreign agent.
He also ordered Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, to open 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 the lyrics reworked.
It included the following lines: “Look, occupier, how the electricity has been cut off in the maternity homes, how the children are sitting in shelters. And how the books are drowning. The Russian night has reached schools and hospitals.”
Another verse referred to “the cellar, where the Führer hides, and the bald little cook, feeding the Führer from a spoon”. The chef was a reference to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who runs the private military company Wagner and has won catering contracts from the Kremlin.
When he first spoke out against the war last summer, Smolyaninov, who was at that time in Russia, told his interlocutor that “it was a catastrophe, everything collapsed: ashes, smoke, stench, tears.”
Last October, a Moscow district court fined Smolyaninov 30,000 rubles (US$430) for defaming Russia’s armed forces. In the same month, he left Russia and is believed to be in Latvia at the moment.
Smolyaninov told how he 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 look is different.”
Devyataya Rota was so popular that Putin welcomed the cast and crew, including Smolyaninov, to his residence outside Moscow in November 2005, giving a private screening of the film.
After watching the film, the Kremlin said, Putin spoke with director Fyodor Bondarchuk and the main actors, including Smolyaninov.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported at the time that Putin declared the film “takes the soul, and you immerse yourself in the film”.
“The film is very powerful,” Putin said at the time, “it’s really serious about the war and the people who found themselves in extreme conditions in this war and showed themselves very worthy.”
The Russian Ministry of Justice has added a number of other clients to its list of foreign clients in recent days, including music critic Artemy Troitsky and several journalists.
“These people were put on the register under Article 7 of the Russian Law on Monitoring the Activities of Persons Subject to Foreign Influence,” Russian state news agency TASS said.
It was also reported this weekend that two well-known theater actors were expelled from the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater for criticizing the war in Ukraine. Dmitry Nazarov and his wife, Olga Vasilyeva, were fired by the theatre’s artistic director, Konstantin Khabensky, who accused the actors of “anti-Russian sentiments”.
The state news agency TASS confirmed the duo’s expulsion without specifying a reason.