Russia considers ban on Armando Iannucci's film The Death of Stalin

Culture ministry adviser says comedy is a ‘planned provocation’ and may be part of western plot to destabilise Russia

Russian authorities are considering a ban on a black comedy about the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s death over fears that the film could lead to violent protests, a high-ranking adviser to the culture ministry has said.

Pavel Pozhigailo said The Death of Stalin, directed by Armando Iannucci – the man behind the political satires Veep and The Thick Of It – was a “planned provocation” aimed at angering Russia’s communists.

He speculated that the British-French production could be part of a western plot to destabilise Russia by causing rifts in society. Pozhigailo, a senior official with the state-appointed public chamber, said the culture ministry would refuse to allow the film to be screened in Russia if officials decided it had the potential to “incite hatred”.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said he trusted the culture ministry would act responsibly when deciding whether to grant The Death of Stalin a distribution licence.

The film’s satirical plot revolves around the Kremlin in-fighting that followed Stalin’s death from a stroke in 1953.

Due for release in Europe and North America next month, it stars Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, and Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet diplomat.

Russia’s Communist party, the second largest party in parliament, has previously called the film “revolting”.

Alexander Yushchenko, a spokesman for the party, said the film, which is based on a graphic novel of the same name, was an attempt to spark discontent.

Vzglyad, a pro-Kremlin newspaper, called the film “a nasty send-up by outsiders who know nothing of our history … Should it be screened in Russia? Of course not.”

Stalin’s popularity has risen in Russia in recent years, amid the Kremlin’s confrontation with the west over Ukraine and Syria. In June, the Soviet tyrant topped a poll carried out by the Moscow-based Levada Centre to find “the most outstanding person” in world history.

The president, Vladimir Putin, took joint second place with Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s 19th-century national poet.

The Death of Stalin is the second film about a historical figure to stir up controversy in Russia in recent months.

Matilda, about Russia’s last tsar, has provoked arson attacks across Russia by Orthodox Christian extremists who say it is “blasphemous” because it shows Nicholas II in erotic scenes.

Nicholas II, who was murdered alongside his family by Communist revolutionaries in 1918, was canonised by the Russian Orthodox church after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Natalya Poklonskaya, a prominent MP with Putin’s ruling party, said Matilda “offends the feelings of religious believers”, a criminal offence in Russia since 2013.


Marc Bennetts in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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