Russian authorities say they have apprehended three men suspected of involvement in an arson attack on cars outside the Moscow office of lawyers for the director of Matilda, a film that has drawn sharp criticism from radical Russian Orthodox and monarchist fringe groups.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk said on September 20 that one suspect was detained in Moscow and the other two in the Lipetsk region, about 450 kilometers south of the capital.
Multiple Russian media outlets cited unidentified law enforcement sources as saying that one of the detainees was the leader of an extremist group that calls itself Christian State-Holy Rus, Aleksandr Kalinin, and that he could potentially be charged with inciting religious and ethnic hatred. Later, however, state-run news agency TASS -- also citing an unidentified source -- reported that Kalinin was questioned as a witness, not a suspect, and was not being held.
There was no official confirmation of any of those reports, and Volk did not name the suspects.
A controversy over Matilda, prominent director Aleksei Uchitel's forthcoming movie based on an early romantic liaison of Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II, has led to violence and cast a spotlight on radical Russian Orthodox activists whose newfound prominence is seen by some Kremlin critics as a dangerous side effect of President Vladimir Putin's increased emphasis in recent years on the importance of what he describes as traditional Russian values.
Opponents of the film say it besmirches the memory of Nicholas, who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church together with his family in 2000.
A letter signed by Christian State-Holy Rus and distributed in January said that members across Russia were prepared to sacrifice their lives for its “true Orthodox Christian path” and that showing Matilda could lead to bloodshed and “civil war.”
The Culture Ministry approved the film for release in July, and it is scheduled to open nationwide on October 26. But following several attacks appearing to target Uchitel and his film, Russian's biggest cinema chain said on September 12 that it would not to show the film, citing the concerns for the safety of moviegoers.
The announcement came a day after the suspected arson attack, in which authorities say masked men torched two cars near the office of Uchitel’s lawyers and left leaflets that said: "To Burn for Matilda."
With reporting by Meduza, Interfax, RIA Novosti, and TASS