Russian anti-war performers under pressure abroad

The Bell

Many Russian musicians and performers have left the country since the start of the invasion. While openly criticizing the war, some have managed to continue earning a living by playing venues in the United States, Europe and Asia. However, since the start of this year, some have seen travel bans and had their concerts canceled. Artists who are listed as “foreign agents” (a label human rights activists say is discriminatory) fear that the Russian authorities are using diplomatic channels to put pressure on local authorities in friendly countries to keep them off the stage.

  • At least four instances in three different countries of Russian performers being targeted have come to light in January. First, comedian Ruslan Bely had his concerts canceled in Thailand. He claims that the Russian consulate ordered the local authorities to ban him. Representatives of the venue in Pattaya, a popular destination for Russians in exile, demanded a written pledge that Bely’s act would not criticize the Russian government.
  • Also in Thailand, renowned Russian rock group Bi-2 ran into trouble. Members of the band were arrested for playing a concert without the correct work permits. They were fined and sent to a migrant holding center, awaiting a transfer to the capital Bangkok. They now face deportation to the countries where the passports on which they entered Thailand were issued. Five members could be sent to Russia, with two others to Australia and Israel, Russian state media reported. The band’s frontmen do not have Russian citizenship.
  • Bi-2's members believe that “external pressure played a significant role in their arrest,” and said all of their concerts were scheduled in accordance with local legislation. A representative of the Russian foreign ministry said that “Russian diplomats are fully communicating their position on the Special Military Operation” and said that anti-war cultural figures who left Russia are sponsoring terrorism abroad.
  • Thailand also canceled gigs by comedian Maxim Galkin, husband of the legendary pop-diva Alla Pugacheva. A source in the Thai entertainment industry told TASS that the performances were canceled due to Galkin’s political views. Galkin also had problems in Indonesia, where he was deniedentry to the country. He claims border guards told him the Russian government had written a letter asking Indonesia not to let him enter.
  • The problems are not limited to south-east Asia. Rapper and showman Morgenshtern said he was recently denied entry to the United Arab Emirates and had previously been barred from performing in the country. Dubai has become a key hub for wealthy Russians who fled the country, including Morgenshtern. He suggested that he had been targeted “by evil people” who had seen an interview in which the musician spoke of how he ”rose to his feet” in Dubai.

Why the world should care:

Despite the widely held belief that Russia finds itself isolated internationally, the country still has a decent number of diplomatic allies who are willing to help it complicate the lives of Russians who try to criticize the war from abroad.


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