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Did Russia's Most Famous Actor Just Denounce Vladimir Putin?

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Arts & Culture, Breaking News, Citizen Media, Film, Media & Journalism, Politics, Protest, War & Conflict, RuNet Echo
Russian actor Konstantin Khabensky. YouTube screenshot. [1]

Russian actor Konstantin Khabensky. YouTube screenshot.

Konstantin Khabensky [2] is one of Russia’s most famous actors. International audiences know him best for starring in the Night Watch and Day Watch films directed by Timur Bekmambetov. He’s also had minor roles in Western movies like Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and Wanted. Yesterday, March 15, 2014, a day before Crimea’s secessionist referendum, a message [3] appeared on a social network page supposedly belonging to Khabensky, where the actor denounced Vladimir Putin and expressed his support for Ukraine. In follow-up posts, Khabensky revealed [4] that hate mail flooded his inbox, after his pro-Ukraine post.

In many countries, political statements by actors that criticize a sitting president are a perfectly ordinary occurrence. In Russia, it is exceedingly rare for anyone who regularly appears on television or the silver screen to criticize, let alone denounce, Vladimir Putin. In fact, people as famous as Khabensky are far likelier to laud the President in times of international crisis.

For instance, more than five hundred cultural figures recently signed a public letter of support for Putin’s position on “Ukraine and Crimea.” The letter, with a list of signatories, was published [5] on the Ministry of Culture’s official website. Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta soon responded [6] with its own public letter, collecting signatures from anti-war personages, including some actors and musicians, but drawing also on fellow liberal journalists.

Khabensky’s fame and the blunt language he used to condemn the Kremlin, however, made his announcement something special. This was a statement by a true cultural icon—not the murmurs of some Russian subculture. Khabensky helped personify the Sochi Olympics, where he voiced commercials [7] for MegaFon and appeared in the Olympic video [8] that featured leading Russian actors performing famous moments in Russian history. Indeed, the news portal NewsRu.com carried the Khabensky announcement as a top story. (At the time of this writing, the article [9] is still there.)

There is strong reason to suspect, however, that Khabensky is not the author of the pro-Ukraine, anti-Putin post on Vkontakte. The account [10] in question does claim to be an “official page,” displaying a green checkmark denoting as much, but this is not how Vkontakte formally recognizes official pages. Study the site’s policies [11] and you’ll see that Vkontakte identifies official pages by adding a blue checkmark immediately to the right of a user’s name. (Look at Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev's page [12] for a clear example.)

In other words, Khabensky’s Vkontakte page is not verified, but the owner of the account wants readers to think it is. That should set off alarm bells: the page is probably fake.