MOSCOW: More than 80 of Russia's leading arts figures, including conductor Valery Gergiev, have signed an open letter in support of President Vladimir Putin's policy on Ukraine and Crimea, the culture ministry said Wednesday.
In the letter published on the ministry's website, they say they "cannot be indifferent observers with cold hearts" and that they "firmly state support for the position of the president of the Russian Federation on Ukraine and Crimea."
The list includes well-known performers such as pianist Denis Matsuev and ballet dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, recently released by the Bolshoi theatre.
There are also many who hold important state posts in the arts, from Gergiev, the director of Saint Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre, to the recently appointed director of the Bolshoi, Vladimir Urin, and the director of the Kremlin museums, Yelena Gagarina, daughter of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
Gergiev was targeted by gay activists in the United States last year over his support for Putin after the president signed a law banning "propaganda" of gay relationships to minors.
Some are well-known as fans of Putin, such as rock star Nikolai Rastorguyev, the frontman of band Lyube whose patriotic songs are said to be among Putin's favourites.
Film director Fyodor Bondarchuk, who shot patriotic blockbuster "Stalingrad" signed the letter, but Oscar-winning Nikita Mikhalkov, also known for his pro-Putin position, is surprisingly missing.
The open letter is reminiscent of the Soviet era when writers, who enjoyed many state-funded perks, signed letters backing state policy.
Members of the Russian Writers' Union also released a letter in support of Putin against "the destructive forces of the West."
But the conflict has divided Russia's cultural scene.
Prominent writers including Lyudmila Ulitskaya, nominated for a Man Booker prize in 2009, and Viktor Yerofeyev last week signed a letter saying that the use of military force in Crimea was unjustifiable.
A group of veteran rock singers last week also published anti-war statements.
Filmmakers including Alexei Popogrebsky, whose film "How I Ended This Summer" won the top prize at the London Film Festival in 2010, also signed a letter against Russian military intervention.