Moscow (AFP) – Paintings of wounded children and grieving women line the walls, while loudspeakers spit out the sound of approaching warplanes.
Welcome to a Moscow exhibit depicting NATO “crimes” amid the Russian military campaign in Ukraine.
“NATO. A Chronicle of Cruelty” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Russian History in Moscow in early April, more than a month after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to the pro-Western country.
According to the museum, the exhibit is dedicated to the history of NATO, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in 1945, although the Western military alliance was only founded in 1949.
It also lists the bloc’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Ukraine-NATO cooperation “that led” to the current conflict.
“Each time it is difficult to talk about the crimes committed by NATO troops,” said guide Yaroslav Polestrov, 46.
The Kremlin sees the US-led military bloc as an existential threat to Russia, and Putin blames Washington for using Ukraine as an instrument to drag Moscow into conflict.
Since the beginning of Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine, independent media have been shut down or suspended while TV stations have increased the production of anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western propaganda.
A few days before the annual Moscow military parade to mark the Soviet victory in World War II on May 9, the exhibition is very crowded.
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.
Along the walls, photos of anti-NATO demonstrations in Europe and many photos of children in conflict zones, some visibly injured.
For the museum’s principal researcher, Fyodor Kokin, NATO played a crucial role in the Ukrainian conflict.
“We see that actually the alliance countries are very actively involved in this conflict,” said Kokin, 28.
“They supply arms, equipment and ammunition to Ukraine.”
Part of the exhibit is a “UK-produced anti-tank missile launcher used by the Ukrainian Armed Forces”, Kokin said.
The exhibition was put together in “less than a few weeks” and has had 14,000 visitors so far, he added.
One of those visitors, Alexandra, who declined to give her surname, said the display was shoddy work.
“It was done in a rush,” said Alexandra, who teaches library science and brought her students to see the exhibit but now “regrets wasting time.”
“Why do we talk about ‘cruelty’? Why not talk about the reasons for the creation of the block, its evolution over time?” the woman said, sporting a black and orange ribbon pinned to her chest as a symbol of Russia’s World War II victory celebrations.
Pointing to a section dedicated to the Vietnam War, Alexandra said, “It’s the United States, not NATO,” that is to blame.
The Polestrov guide shows students at Alexandra a mix of blue and yellow Ukrainian flags displayed alongside a Nazi SS helmet and an American flag, with maps illustrating how far NATO missiles can reach in Russia .
Of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, he said: “Russia and China did not agree with … the decision taken by (Bill) Clinton, the President of the United States and criminals like him”.
Anyone who disagrees with the organizers’ view is free to voice their thoughts in the guestbook, Polestrov said.
Some praised the display.
“Children, teenagers and even many adults need to see for themselves how rotten the Western world is,” wrote two women, who signed their full names, in a message seen by the AFP.
Maria Butina, a lower house lawmaker who served 15 months in a US prison for acting illegally as a foreign agent for Russia, thanked organizers for telling the “truth”.
Other visitors lambasted Moscow’s account.
“This exhibit is Soviet-style propaganda shit,” 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 to the whole world, freedom and wisdom to Russia!
© 2022 AFP