MOSCOW -- A Russian television channel says it will air a World War II film critical of Soviet troops in defiance of warnings from the Culture Ministry.
Minister Vladimir Medinsky sent a letter to the head of the NTV station this week asking him not to show the controversial film on June 22, the anniversary of the Soviet Union's invasion by Nazi Germany in 1941.
The film, titled "I Served the Soviet Union" and based on Leonid Menaker's novel "Lunch With the Devil," tells the story of gulag prisoners who succeed in repelling a Nazi attack after their camp's guards fled advancing German forces. The prisoners are eventually shot by Soviet NKVD troops.
Medinsky said airing the film on June 22, marked in Russia as the Day of Remembrance and Mourning, would be "an insult to veterans" and to the country's "historical memory."
The film, he added, "could cause a split in society."
Medinsky said that his ministry had received thousands of letters, including one from Communist Party State Duma Deputy Vladimir Simagin, asking that "I Served the Soviet Union" not be shown on television.
Simagin told RFE/RL that showing this film on the June 22 "day of mourning" was "doubly inhuman."
"People could get the impression that this was exactly the way the entire country lived during this period," he said. "It's like making a film about current times and showing people doing nothing but taking bribes and killing each other every day. It's an obvious distortion of facts and an insult."
Despite being owned by the state-controlled energy giant Gazprom, NTV appears undeterred. The channel's spokeswoman said it would go ahead with the broadcast on June 22.
A number of media analysts and film critics have strongly condemned Medinsky and say his attempt to have the film pulled from television smacks of Soviet-era censorship.
Prior to his surprise appointment as culture minister,
Medinsky was best known for penning a series of patriotic books called "Myths about Russia," prompting his detractors to label him Russia's new propaganda minister.
"An art work should not be judged for its documentary qualities," says film critic Yury Bogomolov. "That's something people constantly do in Russia, unfortunately. It's a tradition that stems from Soviet-era propaganda."
This is not the first time Russian officials and veterans have sought to block films critical of the Soviet Army's role in World War II.
Last month, veterans convinced NTV not to show "Four Days in May," a film in which a Red Army officer tries to rape a German orphan in 1945.
Instead, the channel aired a Russian war action movie about the Soviet SMERSH counter-intelligence agency.
Written by Claire Bigg in Prague with reporting by Yelena Polyakovskaya in Moscow