Russian Director Alexander Sokurov Gets Political With Putin

Alexander Sokurov - H 2012
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Filmmaker talks of sparing "the lives of soldiers and officers" in Russian president's presence.

A leading Russian director has used a Kremlin awards ceremony to issue a plea "to spare the lives" of Russian troops.

Speaking in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's ancient seat of power, where he was receiving a state prize for his contribution to cinema in Russia and abroad, Alexander Sokurov asked God to "spare the lives of soldiers and officers" at a time when Russia "was on a difficult path."

Although he made no direct reference to Ukraine, his comments are understood to be connected with the Kremlin's support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. Putin denies Russian troops are fighting alongside rebels despite numerous verifiable reports to the contrary. Last year Sokurov called for the release of all political prisoners in the country, and he has also spoken out against Russian policy over Ukraine.

His comments, as he thanked Putin for the award, at a ceremony last Friday held to coincide with the country's national day 'Russia Day,' were brief and pointed.

"It seems to be a holiday today, but in my soul I am troubled," he said in comments published in the official Kremlin record of the ceremony.

"Our motherland is on a hard and difficult path. No one knows what awaits us ahead. I would like to ask God that he saves us from mistakes, and ask God to save our soldiers and officers, to save their lives, and that everything for us is humane."

There was no direct response from Putin, but the comments by a director known as a critic of Kremlin policy in Ukraine are unlikely to go unnoticed.

Sokurov, who has made more than 50 films, including over a dozen features and won numerous international awards, is best known for four key works focused on man and the abuse of power produced between 1999 and 2011: Moloch, about Nazi leader Adolf Hitler; Taurus, about Bolshevik leader Vladimir LeninThe Sun, about wartime Japanese Emperor Hirohito; and most recently Faust, based on the classic German legend about a man who makes a pact with the Devil, trading his soul for unlimited knowledge and earthly pleasures.

Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova, who starred alongside German actor Moritz Bleibtreu in Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov's 1999 film, Luna Papa, also received a state prize at the same ceremony worth 5 million rubles ($93,000). Khamatova said she would use the money to buy special medical equipment for a Moscow clinic that treats children suffering from cancer.