Russian ballet dancer censured for pro-war performance in Uzbekistan

FILE PHOTO: Russian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin rehearses at the Royal Opera House for the Project Polunin show in London, Britain, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo

ALMATY (Reuters) - A prominent Russian ballet dancer complained on Wednesday that he was censured for performing a song dedicated to fallen Russian soldiers while on tour in Uzbekistan, while Uzbek authorities said he had deviated from an agreed programme.

The incident highlighted the concern among Moscow's Central Asian partners about its military campaign in Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic.

Dancer Sergei Polunin said in an Instagram video he had performed a dance - in military uniform - for fallen Russian soldiers to a song whose lyrics include lines such "We will rise, as long as God is with us and the truth is ours".

The song, "Let Us Rise", was released on Feb. 23, Russia's Army Day - the day before Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

After the performance, Polunin said, officials of Uzbekistan's Culture and Arts Development Foundation - an Uzbek state agency overseeing arts - rudely reprimanded him for it. Polunin said he wanted Russian diplomats to stand up for him.

"We must not cave in to this, we must not allow them to do this to Russian artists and Russian culture," he said.

Uzbekistan's news website, however, quoted the foundation as saying its officials were polite and pointed out that Polunin was supposed to stick to the programme, which it said was the song "Take Me to Church" by Irish musician Hozier.

Despite having close ties with Russia, Uzbekistan and its neighbour Kazakhstan have refused to support what Moscow calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine, appealing for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Over the past week, tens of thousands of Russians have fled to Central Asia to evade a conscription campaign announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin amid setbacks on the Ukrainian battlefields.

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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