(CNN) — Russian actor Artur Smolyaninov was the star of one of President Vladimir Putin’s favorite films: about a Soviet unit in a last stand against Afghan insurgents. He is now classified as “foreign agent” and faces a criminal investigation.
Smolyaninov was the hero of “Devyataya Rota” (The 9th Company), a Russian feature film that was 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 was often described as Russia’s Rambo, a nod to American action movies starring Sylvester Stallone.
A lot has changed since then. Smolyaninov is in exile and in a recent interview he said that he was prepared to fight on the Ukrainian side and kill Russian soldiers. He told Novaya Gazeta last week: “I feel nothing but hate for the people on the other (Russian) side of the front. And if I were there on the ground, there would be no mercy.”
He said that a former colleague had gone to fight on the Russian side. “Would he shoot him? Without a doubt! Do I keep my options open to fight for Ukraine? Absolutely! This is 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, head of the Russian Investigative Committee, also ordered a criminal case to be opened against Smolyaninov.
Smolyaninov has been highly critical of the campaign in Ukraine. He recently recorded a Soviet-era song, Temnaya Noch (Dark Night), with reworked lyrics.
It included the lines: “Look, squatter, how the maternity homes are without electricity, how the children sit in the shelters. And how books drown. The Russian night has reached schools and hospitals”.
Another verse referred to “a bunker, where a Führer hides, and a little bald cook, feeds the Führer with a spoon.” The cook was a reference to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who runs the private military company Wagner and has obtained 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 that it was “a catastrophe, everything collapsed: ashes, smoke, stench, tears.”
Last October, a Moscow district court fined Smolyaninov 30,000 rubles (US$430) on charges of discrediting the Russian armed forces. That same month, he left Russia and is now believed to be 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 look is different.”
The film “Devyataya Rota” was so popular that Putin hosted the actors and crew, including Smolyaninov, at his residence outside Moscow in November 2005, where he organized a special screening of the film.
The Kremlin said that after seeing the film, Putin spoke with director Fyodor Bondarchuk and the lead actors, including Smolyaninov.
The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported at the time that Putin declared that the film “captures the soul, you immerse yourself in the film.”
“The film is very strong, something really serious about the war and the people who found themselves in extreme conditions in this war and they showed themselves to be very dignified,” Putin said at the time.
Russia’s Justice Ministry has added several others 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 control of the activities of persons under foreign influence,” according to the Russian state news agency TASS.
It was also reported this weekend that two well-known stage 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 sentiments”.
The state news agency TASS confirmed that the duo had been fired, without specifying the reason.
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The ‘Rambo of Russia’, actor in one of Putin’s favorite films, says he would now fight for Ukraine
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