A group of Russian veterans says a new film about Soviet troops in Afghanistan is "unpatriotic" and should be banned, while the director says it is an honest account of a disastrous conflict.
Leaving Afghanistan, directed by renowned Russian filmmaker Pavel Lungin, is sharply different in tone from recent Russian patriotic war films.
It depicts Soviet soldiers getting drunk and looting during the chaotic final months of the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan conflict, which led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet soldiers and ended with the Soviets' humiliating withdrawal.
The film, whose Russian title is Bratstvo (Brotherhood), was to be released on May 9, a public holiday on which Russia celebrates victory over Nazi Germany in World War II with a massive military parade on Red Square.
But its release date is now uncertain after protests from veterans and families of those killed during the conflict, who say the film is an insult to the Soviet soldiers.
Boris Gromov, a former commander of the main Soviet contingent in Afghanistan, sent a letter to the Culture Ministry calling the movie a "classic example of mud-slinging Russophobia."
Leaving Afghanistan presents Soviet soldiers as "a rabble of degenerates, thieves, swindlers, murderers and scoundrels," wrote Gromov, who went into politics after the Soviet collapse and was governor of the Moscow Oblast from 2000 to 2012.
Gromov heads an association of some 10,000 veterans that has demanded that the ministry deny permission for the film's release.
The head of the Russian upper house of parliament's culture commission, Igor Morozov, who is also an Afghan-war veteran, said Lungin "has made an unpatriotic film that deters young people from serving in the army."
The film "shows our troops looting caravans, fighting, and drinking on every street corner," he complained, adding that it "sullies the memory of Soviet dead" and "damages the country's image."