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20 Mar, 2022 22:00

Russian culture should not be collateral damage in Ukraine war, Soviet-born ballet dancer says

For the nation’s artists, even staying neutral is a “powerful statement,” Mikhail Baryshnikov believes
Russian culture should not be collateral damage in Ukraine war, Soviet-born ballet dancer says

Mikhail Baryshnikov, a Soviet Latvian-born Russian-American ballet dancer, has said Russian culture and sports figures should not be targeted over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

“An open exchange in the arts is always a good thing,” Baryshnikov told The Guardian in an interview published on Sunday. “I don’t think it’s right to put the weight of a country’s political decisions on the backs of artists, or athletes, who may have vulnerable family members in their home country. For people in those exposed positions, neutrality is a powerful statement.”

The ongoing situation is “a Rubicon for Russia,” warned the dancer, who defected from the Soviet Union to Canada back in 1974. “Either it will find a way to end this current conflict and live in an open global society, or it will be thrust backwards with no hope of recovery,” he claimed.

“Russia is already back in Stalin’s time. The arts are collateral damage and it’s impossible to speculate how that will play out,” Baryshnikov said.

The dancer, along with a number of other prominent emigrants, has launched a crowdfunding project dubbed “True Russia,” aiming to spread a better understanding of Russian culture. Money raised from the campaign will be distributed among charities helping Ukrainian refugees.

Moscow launched a large-scale assault against its neighboring country in late February following a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk ceasefire agreements, and Russia's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to regularize the status of the breakaway regions within the Ukrainian state.

Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join NATO. Kiev says the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it had been planning to retake the two rebel republics by force.