#MinskMonitor: American from “The Americans” Visits Separatists
Following MH17 conspiracy video, Peter von Berg meets with Donetsk “leaders”
This week, the author-turned-commander Zakhar Prilepin, whom the @DFRLab has extensively written about, posted a photograph on his social media accounts showing a meeting with Peter von Berg, an actor most well-known for playing Russians on House of Cards and The Americans.
Peter von Berg has been in a number of film, television, and theater productions, where he often plays a Russian character due to his strong command of the language. He was born in the Soviet Union, and moved to the United States as a child.
Was this appearance by von Berg with the “leaders” of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic a random occurrence, or part of a larger pattern of behavior?
Peter von Berg met with the “leader” of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and Prilepin — who commands a military unit loyal to Zakharchenko — as part of a larger visit to Donetsk. The actor was quoted by separatist news outlet DAN-News and relayed he was invited by an unidentified “friend”. He said:
“I arrived two days ago on my friend’s invitation. I plan on being in Donetsk until April 15th. I haven’t had time yet to become acquainted with the city, but I have already seen locations that have been shelled.”
The Donetsk theater published a series of photographs, which showed von Berg teaching acting techniques to actors and students.
Along with his theater appearance, von Berg visited Zakharchenko (far-right) and Prilepin (far-left) in Donetsk.
When asked about why he was visiting, Prilepin said that he was there “out of interest” on invitation from a “friend.”
The actor gave an interview with the television channel Union about the Donbas.
In the interview, he described how he knew almost nothing about the Donbas before he arrived, and expected to see a “terrifying place, like Beirut, or Iraq.” Instead, he relayed how he found normal people walking around, though he also saw the effects of the war, such as destroyed houses and injured people.
Previous activities in Ukraine
This run-in with the Russian-appointed leader of the DNR was not Peter von Berg’s first incident in Ukraine. In October 2017, von Berg helped film a conspiracy video that blamed the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) on the Ukrainian government. In the second season of the “MH17 Inquiry” video series, von Berg narrated the video that garnered just over 1,000 views at the time of publishing this report.
During the scene that was filmed in Crimea, von Berg can be seen in a shirt that reads “Crimea is ours,” (Крым наш), a popular refrain from 2014 from Russians who supported the forceful annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.
Other American entertainers in occupied Ukraine
Peter von Berg is not the first American entertainer to make his way to occupied Ukrainian territory. Perhaps most famously, in 2014, American actor (and now Russian citizen) Steven Seagal played at a concert in Crimea alongside Night Wolves leader Alexander Zaldostanov, who remains subject to sanctions levied against him by the U.S. government.
American boxer Roy Jones Jr. also visited Crimea and appealed for Russian citizenship in 2015, which he received.
Jeff Monson, a somewhat well-known American MMA fighter, received citizenship to the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LNR) in 2016. He was supposedly the first American with the “honor.”
While it is not illegal under United States law for Americans — including von Berg — to visit occupied territories of Ukraine, they have all been (or in the case of von Berg, will likely soon be) banned from entering Ukraine. Authorities of the Russia-led territories in Ukraine have yearned for legitimacy by broadcasting the tacit or explicit approval of celebrities or people who can be construed as such, such as von Berg.
We expect that this recent appearance by the actor, despite the fact that his celebrity is much smaller than that of an actor like Steven Seagal, to be played up in Russian and separatist propaganda over the coming week.