Russian Studio Head Expresses Support for Putin on Talk Show About Killed Critic

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A former agent blames the West for the death of the critic of the Russian president, while Mosfilm head Karen Shakhnazarov lauds Putin.

Russian film director and studio head Karen Shakhnazarov on a popular national TV talk show underlined his support for president Vladimir Putin after the murder of one of Putin's main critics.

Shakhnazarov also paid his respects to the murdered opposition politician. "It was a terrible murder of a talented and bright man," he said, adding later, to applause from the studio audience: "I support President Putin because I honestly believe that his position [supports] the national interests of Russia."

Meanwhile, the prime suspect in the death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko on the same show accused Western intelligence services of organizing the killing of Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in Moscow on Friday.

Andrei Lugovoi, a member of the State Duma for ultra-nationalist party LDPR, said that he was convinced the mafia-style hit late Friday on a bridge within view of the Kremlin was a carefully planned "provocation." He said: "I am convinced that preparations for killing Nemtsov began at least a year ago as part of a strategic plan linked to Ukraine."

Both spoke on popular weekly news and current affairs show Sunday Evening With Vladimir Solovyev, which airs on state channel Rossiya 1. 

Shakhnazarov, head of Russia's biggest movie studio, Mosfilm, and a Putin loyalist who has made public his support for the seizure of Crimea, contributed to the tone in line with the Kremlin's argument that Nemtsov's death was a "provocation" by anti-Russian elements.

Theories mentioned by official investigators have emphasized personal or ethnic reasons. Nemtsov, who was Jewish, may have been killed by Islamic extremists or in connection with the fact that he was dating Anna Duritskaya, a Ukrainian model 32 years his junior, they have said. None of those theories are regarded as plausible by foreign commentators in Russia or the country's intelligentsia.

The talk show aired just hours after a memorial rally for Nemtsov in central Moscow Sunday and opened with comments by host Vladimir Solovyev that emphasized how few in relative terms had taken to the streets. "There may have been 50,000 but not more than 100,000," he said, adding that most people had turned out, like the masses in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo killings in January, simply because they were "troubled" by the very public nature of the killing.

Lugovoi, also a former KGB officer, is currently making his own television series based on his security service past and former friendship with Litvinenko. "This may not be the end but the beginning of provocations," he warned viewers.

The truth about Nemtsov's murder, would one day emerge, he suggested. "It is all part of a geopolitical game of Western intelligence services," he argued.

No explanation was given for Lugovoi's presence on the show, although his place was later taken in the 145-minute-long program by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the LDPR, who recently suggested Kiev should be napalmed.

There was also no mention of evidence linking Lugovoi to the death from polonium poisoning in Nov. 2006  of Litvinenko, which was presented last month in London during a British government inquiry into the killing.

The comments are typical of a new style of a Kremlin-approved narrative that has become ubiquitous on Russian state television in the past year since Russia seized the Crimea, according to observers. Last year, Dmitry Kiselyov, a TV host who is now head of state news agency Rossiya Segodnaya and international radio network, Sputnik, courted controversy with homophobic on-air comments and by stating that Russia was the only country in the world capable of turning America into a "pile of radioactive ash."

Many leading figures from the Moscow intelligentsia refused to appear on Sunday's show, considering it a mouthpiece for Kremlin views. "Close friends and associates who knew Boris Nemtsov well were being called all day Saturday by researchers from the show, but none of them agreed to go on it," a source told The Hollywood Reporter.

German film producer Simone Baumann, who is making two television documentaries about Russian state television, argued that Lugovoi's appearance on the show pointed to a new level of broadcasting propaganda. "They seem no longer to have any boundaries. And most Russians who watch television believe what they see and hear," she said.

Baumann produced a controversial 2013 documentary on the Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin's Games, that features evidence collated by  Nemstov that $26 billion — nearly half the total bill for games — was embezzled or kicked back.

Nemtsov's funeral was due to be held Tuesday in Moscow, preceded by a public memorial service at which tens of thousands of mourners were expected.