Gay rights activist turned Kremlin propagandist suspended after urging the killing of Ukrainian children

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A top Russian propagandist who mused about burning and drowning Ukrainian children in a television segment has been suspended from his position with Kremlin-controlled outlet RT, in a rare instance of anti-Ukrainian rhetoric meeting with consequences.

Even more unusually, the fallen propagandist — Anton Krasovsky — was once a hero in the West for coming out as gay on Russian television and speaking out against homophobia. He later unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Moscow.

Now he is out of a job on Russian TV — and being investigated by authorities for his “sharp statements.”

Sharp statements are the norm in Russia media outlets, which are expected to mimic and amplify whatever message President Vladimir Putin intends to convey to the Russian people, many of whom have no recourse to independent networks, newspapers or websites.

Since February, when the Kremlin launched an invasion of Ukraine under false pretenses, top Russian propagandists have called for the destruction of Ukraine and, once the invasion began to falter, nuclear strikes against the West. They have proffered outlandish conspiracy theories while frequently deploying antisemitic and racist tropes. Russian war crimes are met with neglect, while Ukrainian war crimes are routinely invented. Dismissing the very idea of an independent Ukraine, as Putin has done for years, is not only tolerated but celebrated as a form of patriotism.

It is widely understood by Russians that the most-watched networks and most-read newspapers are effectively part of the government, their top personalities essentially Kremlin employees.

But last Thursday, Krasovsky became the rare propagandist who went too far when he fantasized about murdering Ukrainian children on “The Antonyms,” a talk show on the Kremlin-owned network RT, formerly known as Russia Today. The clip, which was shared on Twitter by Russian media monitor Julia Davis, featured Krasovsky in conversation with Sergei Lukyanenko, a science fiction writer with strong nationalistic and anti-Ukrainian views.

The segment begins with Krasovsky and Lukyanenko lamenting what they described as hyperbolic coverage of the war, including reports that Russian soldiers have been raping Ukrainian women.

Sexual violence and torture against Ukrainian civilians have been documented by Western journalists and human rights observers, but Krasovsky mocked the possibility of such atrocities. “Good Lord, those hags would give away the money they’d been saving for their coffins to get raped by Russian soldiers,” he said.

Lukyanenko then told the story of traveling to Ukraine in 1980, when the country was part of the Soviet Union. While there, he said, he encountered some anti-Russian sentiment, with Ukrainian children telling him that, were it not for Soviet rule, their living standards would rival those of France. Although Ukraine and Russia share deep religious, cultural and ethnic ties, Ukrainians — like many other peoples subjugated by Russia and then by the Soviet Union — have consistently nurtured their own national identity.

To this, Krasovsky responded by suggesting that the children who’d made disparaging remarks about Russia should have been drowned in the Tisza River, a tributary of the Danube. “Just drown those children, drown them,” he said while making a downward motion with his hand.

An apartment block that was destroyed by Russian occupying forces looms over a children's play area.
An apartment block that was destroyed by Russian occupying forces looms over a children's play area in Izyum, Ukraine, on Monday. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Krasovsky went on to mock rural Ukrainian life, lamenting that the Carpathian Mountains had been made “revolting” by the presence of Ukrainian villages. “Shove them right into those huts and burn them up,” he said, seeming to still speak of Ukrainian children.

Krasovsky’s mirthful delivery only made the moment more chilling. The United Nations estimated in August that some 1,000 children have died in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s invasion, which was launched under the pretenses of pan-Slavic kinship. The number of slain Ukrainian children has undoubtedly increased as Russia bombs densely populated cities.

The clip of the exchange between Krasovsky and Lukyanenko went viral on Twitter after it was shared by Davis, earning condemnation from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “Governments which still have not banned RT must watch this excerpt,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “This is what you side with if you allow RT to operate in your countries. Aggressive genocide incitement (we will put this person on trial for it), which has nothing to do with freedom of speech.”

The most surprising development came on Monday morning, when RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan, one of Russia’s most influential journalists and a close Putin ally, announced that Krasovsky was being suspended from further RT appearances.

“Anton Krasovsky’s statement is wild and revolting,” she wrote in an unusually pointed statement on Telegram, a social media platform popular in Russia. “Perhaps Anton will explain what kind of temporary disturbance” led to his outburst, she went on. “It is hard to believe that Krasovsky sincerely believed that children should be drowned.”

Simonyan added that she was “stopping our collaboration” with Krasovsky, without providing any details. To the children of Ukraine, she expressed the wish that “all of this will end as soon as possible, and they can again calmly live and learn.”

Simonyan also shared Krasovsky’s apology, which he had published on Telegram on Sunday evening. “Listen, I am seriously embarrassed that I didn’t see that line,” he wrote. “The one about children. But that’s how it goes: You’re on a live broadcast, you get carried away. And you can’t stop.”

Margarita Simonyan
Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of RT. (Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The apology did not save Krasovsky’s career, at least in the near term. On Monday, Alexander Bastrykin, who heads Russia’s investigative committee, announced he was launching an investigation into Krasovsky’s appearance on “The Antonyms,” according to Russian outlet Vesti.

It has been a remarkable downfall for a man once celebrated for speaking truth to power.

On Jan. 25, 2013, Krasovsky used a live news broadcast on Kontr TV — an outlet of which he was then editor in chief — to announce he was gay. “I’m gay and I’m as much a human being as Putin and Medvedev,” he said on air, referencing the nation’s two leading figures. (Dmitry Medvedev had served as president during a four-year period when Putin was forbidden by the Russian Constitution from doing so.)

Just months before, Russia had passed a law criminalizing "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," making Krasovsky’s revelation an act of both righteous defiance and political resistance.

He was promptly fired from his position — but became an icon of extraordinary courage for Western media outlets that, in the preceding years, had started to apply increasingly intense scrutiny to Russia under Putin. The sometimes voyeuristic fascination with post-Soviet society, in all its lurid excesses, gave way to concerns about corruption, militarism and human rights.

“The lying I have been made part of is ruinous for Russia,” Kraskovsky told the Los Angeles Times in a 2013 interview.

Anton Krasovsky
Anton Krasovsky in Moscow in 2017. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Zuma Press)

In 2016, Krasovsky established a center to help people suffering from HIV/AIDS. The following year, he revealed he had been HIV-positive since 2011.

In 2018, he launched a bid to become the mayor of Moscow. “Of all politicians I prefer Obama, I am social democrat by my political views, I want to take part in the election to show the current political elite how to fight for human rights and freedom,” he told the Daily Beast in an interview, also complaining that “everything sucks” in Russia.

Incumbent and Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin won with 70% of the vote.

By 2021, Krasovsky was hosting “The Antonyms,” and his rehabilitation as a member of the media establishment appeared to be complete. His rhetoric was indistinguishable from that of other Russian propagandists, his legacy as a speaker of truth to power all but forgotten. Loquacious and profane, he called Ukrainians “animals” and threatened Russians protesting against the war with imagery that would presage his downfall: “If I were in power, I would have tied you all up and drowned you.”

Krasovsky’s demise highlights the rarity with which violent, even genocidal language encounters any meaningful consequence from Russian authorities. On the other hand, truthfully calling the invasion of Ukraine a “war” instead of using the state-sanctioned term spetzoperatsiya (“special operation”) is illegal.

That has made some observers wonder if Krasovsky is anything more than a convenient scapegoat for a Kremlin that has faced accusations of war crimes and human rights abuses. “Margarita Simonyan no longer wants to cooperate with Anton Krasovsky, who calls for the killing of Ukrainian children,” the Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky wrote on Twitter of the RT editor in chief. “But Margarita Simonyan wants to cooperate with Putin, who kills Ukrainian children.”