Russia halts UK-US display of WW2 photos

US-Soviet meeting at Torgau, 1945 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 1945: US and Soviet troops finally met at Torgau, deep inside Germany

A central Russian gallery has cancelled the opening of an exhibition of World War Two images by US and British photographers, sparking claims that the event was pulled for political reasons.

Yekaterinburg's House of Metenkov said the closure was a "technical" matter.

Russians would have had a chance to see 150 images from war episodes less familiar to them, such as the Battle of Britain and 1944 Normandy landings.

Stark photos from Nazi concentration camps were to be shown too.

The exhibition had been titled "Triumph and Tragedy: allies in the Second World War".

Classic war photos

The US and British consulates sourced 150 photographs from the Imperial War Museum in London and the US National Archives and Library of Congress for the event, including work by Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Cecil Beaton.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption US troops disable a German tank in Normandy - most Russians rarely see such pictures

A staff member at the state-run gallery told the BBC that the decision to cancel the exhibition was "political", and said they did not believe it would ever open. They said they had been "ordered" not to comment further.

Gallery manager Raisa Zorina had previously dismissed the official explanation of "technical problems", telling local media "this is very serious" and advising them to "read between the lines".

A specific political motive is difficult to discern, though staff suggested it was related to the gallery's collaboration with foreign consulates in today's increasingly hostile political climate.

Diplomatic setback

In 2012 Russia began obliging non-governmental organisations which receive overseas funding to register as "foreign agents", amid suspicions that Western governments were plotting regime change in Russia.

However, the US consulate confirms that it has worked with the gallery before and the British consulate is equally mystified. The photographs had already been hung and 150 guests had been invited to the opening.

Russia is currently preparing to mark the 70th anniversary of victory in WW2, known here as the Great Patriotic War.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption The Soviet campaign against the Nazis is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War

State media and politicians are promoting the date heavily, honouring the immense Soviet role in defeating Nazi Germany. The contribution of US and other Allied troops is often sidelined.

A US consulate spokeswoman said the exhibition commemorated "our shared history", with images of Soviet troops as well as American and British military. In one, General Zhukov is awarding an American soldier the Russian Order of Victory.

The director of Yekaterinburg's history museum, who is responsible for the House of Metenkov, insists it has closed for safety reasons.

The fact that repair work clashes with an exhibition opening is "pure coincidence", said Irina Yevdakimova.

"The building is from 1880 - it's very old," she told the BBC. "We are a state museum and we can't pick and choose when work is done."

She insisted that the exhibition could open once the unspecified problem had been "liquidated".

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