Film icon Arnold Schwarzenegger told Russians in a video posted on social media Thursday they're being lied to about the war in Ukraine and accused President Vladimir Putin of sacrificing Russian soldiers' lives for his own ambitions.
Schwarzenegger is hugely popular in Russia, and apparently also with Putin. The President of Russia Twitter account follows only 22 accounts — one of them the actor's.
In the nine-minute video, Schwarzenegger said Russian soldiers were told they’d be fighting Nazis in Ukraine, or to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine or that were going on military exercises, and that they’d be greeted like heroes. He said many of the troops now know those claims were false.
“This is an illegal war,” Schwarzenegger said, looking straight into the camera while seated at a desk in a study. “Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world.”
Schwarzenegger posted his emotional video on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. While some of those services are blocked in Russia, he also posted it on the Telegram messaging app — which is not — where it got more than a half-million views. It was subtitled in Russian.
The former California governor brought up painful memories about how his own father was lied to as he fought with Adolf Hitler’s forces during World War II, and how he returned to Austria a broken man, physically and emotionally after being wounded at Leningrad.
He asked Russians to let their fellow citizens know about “the human catastrophe that is happening in Ukraine.” The video showed bombed out buildings in Ukraine and people coming under Russian shelling.
He then addressed Putin directly, saying: “You started this war. You are leading this war. You can stop this war.”
Schwarzenegger described his long ties to Russia, having traveled there as a body builder and film action hero. In 2010, as California governor, he led a delegation of Silicon Valley business leaders and venture capitalists on a trip to Moscow.
He called all the Russians who have been in the streets protesting the invasion of Ukraine, and who have been arrested and manhandled, “my new heroes.”
An adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry who works to disseminate information about the course of the war urged Ukrainians to share the video with friends and relatives in Russia.
“Putin and his propagandists call us Ukrainians fascists and Nazis,” the adviser, Anton Gerashchenko, said on Telegram. “But their propaganda is blown to smithereens when super famous people all over the world speak with one voice: ‘No to war!’”
Gerashchenko has more than 385,000 subscribers to his channel on Telegram. He included a link to a version of Schwarzenegger’s video with a Russian voice-over that he posted on his YouTube channel.
Associated Press writer Lynn Berry in Washington contributed to this report.