The State Of Play In Russia

International touring has not resumed in Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, after which virtually all major touring artists and companies canceled their engagements in the country. “With very rare exceptions, no meaningful acts tour Russia,” independent promoter Semyon Galperin told Pollstar. Some of those exceptions include former Rainbow and Deep Purple frontman Joe Lynn Turner, who played Moscow in March, and Steven Seagal’s blues band, which performed in Samara at the Guitars In Formation festival in May. Galperin is a concert promoter from Russia, where he was the producer, art director, talent buyer and managing partner of Tele-Club Ekaterinburg, a mainstay in Pollstar’s Top 200 World Club charts between 2013 and 2020. He promoted some of the biggest names in international touring in Ekaterinburg and beyond but decided to leave his home and professional life behind when the war started. He migrated to Israel, where he runs his own promotion business, Shimon Live.

The main reason why the international con- cert business hasn’t picked up in Russia has remained the same since the invasion began. “The first and foremost reason for the touring boycott is disgust for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While fans do not necessarily sup port the war, foreign gigs, to a certain extent, legitimize Putin’s criminal regime, and are definitely used for propaganda purposes – to show that life goes on in Russia, [and that the country] is in no way isolated,” Galperin said. “There are other implications of touring Russia, such as direct or indirect taxes paid to the Russian government. And the inability to say what you think is also a constraint. Saying something like ‘Russia should stop bombing Kyiv’ may be prosecuted with up to 15 years of imprisonment.”

Putin Attends Pro Government Concert In Luzhniki Stadium
Russian singer Grigory Leps performs during a concert in Luzhniki Stadium on February 22, 2023 in Moscow, Russia. Thousands of people gathered at the Moscow stadium for a pro-Putin rally marking ‘Defender of the Fatherland Day’ as well as the first anniversary of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

Ed Ratnikov, founder and CEO of Talent Concert International (TCI), said the sanctions that were placed on Russia in terms of entertainment and sports were just as extensive as the official political ones. “Currently, no international artists can play for a Russian audience. A few Russian promoters and a few top Russian artists left the country and are trying to promote for the Russian audience abroad,” he said, adding, “TCI decided to stay in the market, but considering we cannot promote and sell any international artists we decided to create our own content.” Particularly in light of the fact that Cirque du Soleil and Disney have left the market in protest, Ratnikov continued, “Audience demand is considerable.”

He emphasized, “The live industry in Russia is still alive and it’s a good time for new talent to rise. Some Russian artists who usually worked in concert halls announced arenas and stadiums shows and seem to be selling well.” Ruki Vverh or Leningrad, for instance, announced shows at Moscow’s Luhzniki Stadium, the country’s biggest stadium at 65,000 capacity. Diana Arbenina went on sale at the 40,000-cap Spartak Stadium, and Leonid Agutin at the 11,000-cap VTB Arena. TCI is still promoting pop and rock artists, rising names such as Assamuel, native Siberian act Otyken, or the well-known band Tierr Maitz, who all have Russian shows coming up in the fall. Ratnikov said, “We all believe that this madness will end soon, and the world will get back to normal. We only pray it happens sooner.”

Aside from any moral considerations, there are practical challenges to traveling to, let alone touring in, Russia. The U.S. government currently recommends on its travel advisory homepage, “Do not travel to Russia due to the unpredictable consequences of the unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment and the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, and the possibility of terrorism. U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately. Exercise increased caution due to the risk of wrongful detentions.” Governments in Europe, such as Germany, have issued similar warnings. Most airlines canceled their flights into Russia, and there are few routes available as Galperin explained, including via Istanbul, Turkey, or Belgrade, Serbia, adding logistical challenges to transporting touring equipment. Last but not least, the waves of mass flights and brain-drain have robbed the country of live professionals working the shows. 

The war itself seems to be mostly waged on Ukrainian territory, according to Galperin,who said, “There’s no war on Russian territo ry, except for certain border towns and rare drone attacks mostly of symbolic significance. That’s our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, who have to fight on the frontlines, seek refuge in other countries, or live in their homeland under shelling, rockets and drone attacks.” He believes the fact that the dangers of war are not felt in Russia was a major factor in why Russians “continue to keep quiet.” There are many Russian artists who’ve protested the war and/or left the country, like Zemfira or Bi2, to name two prominent examples. Others, like Oxxxymiron, Noize MC, or Boris Grebenshchikov, one of the founding fathers of Russian rock, raised money for Ukraine through their work. They are all being labeled “foreign agents” by the Russian government. Said Galperin, “It’s impossible to tour Russia now if the artist is articulately against the war. So those who are touring are either pro-war – there are not many – or silent.”