11 July 2024

Paintings of wounded children and grieving women line the walls, while loudspeakers spit out the sound of approaching warplanes. Welcome to a Moscow exhibition depicting NATO’s “crimes” amid Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

“NATO. A chronicle of cruelty” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Russian History in Moscow in early April, over a month after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to the pro-Western country.

According to the museum, the display is dedicated to the history of NATO including the United States’ atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, despite the Western military alliance being founded only in 1949.

It also lists the bloc’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as cooperation between Ukraine and NATO “that has led” to the current conflict.

“Every time it’s difficult to talk about the crimes committed by NATO troops,” guide Yaroslav Polestrov, 46, said.

The Kremlin considers the US-led military bloc an existential threat to Russia and Putin blames Washington for using Ukraine as an instrument to draw Moscow into a conflict.

Since the start of Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine, independent media outlets have been shut down or suspended operations while television channels have ratcheted up the production of anti-Ukraine and anti-West propaganda.

Just days before Moscow’s annual military parade to mark the Soviet victory in World War II on May 9, the exhibition is well attended.

At the entrance, a group of teenage cadets in uniform pose for a photo before heading inside, which, unusually in the Russian capital, is free of charge.

Lining the walls are photos of anti-NATO demonstrations in Europe and numerous photos of children in conflict zones, some visibly injured.

For the museum’s senior researcher Fyodor Kokin, NATO has been playing a crucial role in the Ukraine conflict.

“We see that in fact the countries of the alliance are very actively involved in this conflict,” Kokin, 28, said.

“They are supplying arms, equipment, and ammunition to Ukraine.”

An official stands at the exhibition “NATO. A Chronicle of Cruelty” at the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia in Moscow on May 5, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Part of the display is an “anti-tank missile launcher produced in the United Kingdom and used by the Ukrainian armed forces”, Kokin said.

The exhibit was put together in “less than a few weeks” and has welcomed 14,000 visitors so far, he added.

One of those visitors, Alexandra, who declined to release her last name, said the display was a shoddy job.

“This was done in a hurry,” said Alexandra, who teaches library science and brought her students to see the exhibition but now “regrets wasting time”.

“Why are we talking about ‘cruelty’? Why not talk about the reasons for the creation of the bloc, how it has evolved over time?” said the woman, sporting a black and orange ribbon pinned to her chest, a symbol of WWII victory celebrations in Russia.

Pointing to a section dedicated to the Vietnam War, Alexandra said, “It is the United States, not NATO,” which is to blame.

‘Soviet-style propaganda’

Guide Polestrov shows Alexandra’s students a jumble of Ukrainian blue and yellow flags displayed next to a Nazi SS helmet and a US flag, with maps illustrating just how far into Russia NATO missiles can reach.

On the 1999 NATO bombings of Yugoslavia, he said: “Russia and China did not agree with… the decision made by (Bill) Clinton,  President of the United States and criminals like him”.

Anyone disagreeing with the organizers’ point of view is free to express their thoughts in the visitors’ book, Polestrov said.

Some praised the display.

“It is necessary that children, adolescents, and even many adults see for themselves how rotten the Western world is,” two women, who signed their full names, wrote in a message seen by AFP.

Maria Butina, a lower house lawmaker who served 15 months in a US prison for illegally acting as a foreign agent for Russia, thanked the organizers for telling the “truth”.

Other visitors blasted Moscow’s narrative.

“This exhibition is Soviet-style propaganda crap,” read one entry.

“There is no black and white in politics, there are only shades of grey,” said another.

“Don’t let the propaganda fool you. Peace to Ukraine and the whole world, freedom and wisdom to Russia!”

by Andrea Palasciano