Russian state TV is preparing to broadcast its own drama retelling the story of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but unlike the acclaimed HBO series that has captivated audiences worldwide, the Russian version will suggest a CIA agent was there during the accident.
The Russian series, also titled "Chernobyl," is being produced by NTV, one of Russia’s main television channels, which is owned by the state-controlled Gazprom Media.
The HBO series has been a a global hit, including in Russia, praised by critics and viewers for its remarkable attention to detail and the verisimilitude of its representation of Soviet reality. It received the highest-ever rating for a television show on IMdB, as well as a 9.1 rating on Russian equivalent Kinopoisk.
The Russian show sticks less closely to reality. Its director, Aleksey Muradov told the tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda, that his version would include an alternative theory of the disaster. According to a description of the show, the plot will focus on a fictional contest between an American CIA agent who infiltrates the power station to gather intelligence and a KGB counter-intelligence officer hunting him.
“Why are you surprised?,” the director, Muradov told Komsomolskaya Pravda. “The hypothesis about American interference in the work of the Chernobyl power station exists. Many histories don’t rule out that on the day of the explosion an agent of the enemy security services was working at the station. Till this day it has not be established whether his activity was connected with the explosion.”
Shot in Belarus, the NTV series has been in production since 2014 and is supported by Russia’s Ministry of Culture, which has reportedly provided 30 million rubles or $463,000 in funds.
The NTV show is surfacing amid a disgruntled reaction among Kremlin media and Russian tabloids to the HBO series. In Russia, the series has been criticized as diminishing the heroism of Soviet emergency workers and as overly-focused on the negative aspects of what iremains the world's worst nuclear disaster.
“Chernobyl didn’t show the most important thing -- our victory,” ran one headline in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s most-read newspaper.
The critics, while acknowledging the show’s realism in its costumes and sets, have suggested the show is meant to blacken the Soviet Union by focusing of authorities’ failings.
An op-ed in the magazine Argumenti i Fakti, called the HBO show a "quality propaganda product".
War correspondent, Dmitry Steshin, writing in Komsomolskaya Pravda, even claimed the show was intended to undermine overseas sales for Russia’s state atomic company, Rosatom.
Russia’s normally conservative, nationalist minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, however, said that, on the whole, he liked the U.S. show, after watching it with his father, who he said took part in the clean up effort shortly after the accident. His father, he said, had found it close to the reality of what actually happened.
Other Russian commentators have said that the ignominious role played by the Soviet state in the run-up and aftermath of the disaster -- when authorities initially tried to conceal the catastrophe -- make it a subject that the current government is clearly struggling to manage.
Ilya Shepelin, a Russian journalist, wrote in The Moscow Times, "The fact that an American, not a Russian, TV channel tells us about our own heroes is a source of shame that the pro-Kremlin media apparently cannot live down."
"And this is the real reason they find fault with HBO’s “Chernobyl” series."