Diplomatic storm over a rock band. Russia clashes with Israel after failing to secure deportation of Bi‑2 musicians from Thailand
Никита Сологуб
Diplomatic storm over a rock band. Russia clashes with Israel after failing to secure deportation of Bi‑2 musicians from Thailand
7 February 2024, 20:42

Photo: Bi-2 / Facebook

In late January, members of the renowned Russian-language rock band Bi-2 found themselves ensnared in legal turmoil in Bangkok, Thailand, detained in an overcrowded immigration cell as they fought against deportation to Russia. The dramatic confrontation over their fate echoed Moscow’s broader crackdown on dissent. Following intense diplomatic maneuvering on behalf of Israel, Australia, and other nations, the band members were allowed to depart to Israel instead of Russia.

Russian diplomats were left disgruntled by both the failed operation to deport Bi-2 musicians to Russia and the coverage of the event—including the stance of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. This led to denials of “false information” and snarky criticisms against Israel, which succeeded in “freeing, if not hostages, then musicians.” Moscow is now publicly and privately lecturing Israel’s new ambassador to Russia, Simona Galperin, elaborately responding to her interview with Kommersant daily and officially summoning her over “distortion of Russian historical realities.”

In the two weeks following the detention of Bi-2 band members in Thailand, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic tensions with Israel have persisted. Among the seven detained, only three held Russian passports, while the remainder were Israeli citizens, and Alexander Uman (“Shura Bi-2”) being an Australian national as well. Lead singer Egor Bortnik (“Lyova Bi-2”) was allowed to depart for Israel on January 30, one day ahead of his bandmates.

Upon the musicians’ arrival in Israel, the country’s Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, lauded their safe return as a triumph of the ministry’s dedication and the department for Israeli affairs abroad’s concerted efforts. He praised the diplomatic strategy as “smart and persistent,” invoking the Talmudic maxim, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire,” a sentiment historically linked to the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.

However, the following day saw the Russian Foreign Ministry vehemently refute what it called “widespread internet misinformation” regarding the detention of Bi-2, showcasing screenshots from Meduza and Sota news media, and comments by a Russian activist Maxim Katz. These pieces suggested that the Russian Consul General, Vladimir Sosnov, had worked with Moscow to arrange the musicians’ deportation to Russia. The ministry denied these reports, labeling the “sensationalist” narratives as baseless “insinuations” against Russian diplomats.

“We understand the attempts by Israeli diplomats to demonstrate their capability to free, if not hostages, then musicians,” the Ministry wrote, clearly alluding to hostages taken by Hamas during the October 7, 2023, attack.

Diplomats also complained about Russian journalists being denied access to a press conference organized with the Israeli Foreign Ministry on the musicians’ release, interpreting this as evidence that the “show organizers fear exposure.” Indeed, correspondents from state-controlled RIA Novosti, VGTRK, and freelancers associated with pro-government Russian media were not admitted to the press conference in Tel Aviv, but this was at the musicians’ request, explained Israeli Ambassador to Moscow Simona Galperin, with officials having no issues with journalist accreditations.

Against this backdrop, on February 4, Galperin’s interview appeared in Kommersant, a prominent Russian daily newspaper, just a month after she assumed her role as the new Israeli Ambassador to Russia. She reminded Russia of a recent visit by Hamas representatives, lamented Russia’s failure to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day officially, criticized Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for “downplaying this atrocious event,” and described her counterparts’ stance at the UN as “unacceptable.” However, she hoped that relations between the two countries would not deteriorate and that Israel would never be listed as an “unfriendly state,” an official Russian government designation that carries restrictions related to trade and diplomatic missions. The list was first announced in May 2021 when it consisted of the United States and the Czech Republic, but has since been expanded to 49 states, including all EU member states.

The Russian Foreign Ministry was not pleased. The following day, a response to the interview appeared in Kommersant, nearly matching the original piece in length. The ministry labeled Galperin’s statements “unacceptable and provocative,” particularly those related to the Holocaust. The Russian Foreign Ministry also referred to Minister Katz’s comment on the deportation of Bi-2 band members, which used the phrase about saving one life to praise his department’s efforts, thereby employing it for “political and ideological purposes,” which is prohibited by experts of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Russia also took issue with the fact that Ambassador Galperin and Kommersant’s foreign policy desk head, Leonid Gankin, with nearly 30 years of experience at the newspaper, “ignored the topic of neo-Nazism in Ukraine” and failed to condemn countries destroying monuments to Red Army soldiers. The visit of Hamas representatives to Moscow a few weeks after a massacre at a music festival in Reim was justified by Russia as having facilitated the release of several hostages.

Concurrently with the piece’s publication in Kommersant, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Simona Galperin over “unacceptable public statements” that “distort Russian foreign policy approaches and historical realities.” The visit took place the next day, on February 6. Galperin spent about an hour and a half at the ministry.

Editor: Dmitry Treschanin

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