Moscow's diplomatic mission in Canada is thumbing its nose at a decision by a Toronto cultural institution to drop a controversial pianist over her critical remarks about Ukrainians and the government in Kiev.
The Russian embassy says it will host a recital by Ukrainian-born Valentina Lisitsa this Tuesday – an event that it insists is "strictly non-political" despite the debate that has been swirling around the musician for months.
The invitation-only event, on the embassy grounds, takes place about two months after the outspoken Ms. Lisitsa, an ethnic Russian, was dropped from Toronto Symphony Orchestra concerts for comments she posted on her Twitter account that were critical of the current Ukrainian government.
Canada and Russia have suspended all but low-level diplomatic contacts after Moscow's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and throughout a civil war in eastern Ukraine that the West insists is backed by President Vladimir Putin.
Ms. Lisitsa's performance in Ottawa will commemorate the 175th anniversary of the birth of Tchaikovsky, as well as other famous Russian composers such as Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Prokofiev, Moscow's diplomatic mission says.
Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said Monday that Ms. Lisitsa creates "ethnic division" with her statements.
"There's a fine line between free speech and hate speech and she's crossed it."
He said Ms. Lisitsa has made deeply offensive comments against Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, members of visible minorities and people with disabilities on her Twitter feed.
Mr. Grod said the pianist's social-media activity has included references to Ukrainians as ukropy, a derogatory ethnic slur, and as "dog feces and Nazis," and "she makes false and spurious allegations that Ukrainians are setting up filtration camps and preparing gas chambers for Russians."
He said Russia is exploiting Ms. Lisitsa for its own ends by hosting her performance. "They've recognized she's a useful tool in their propaganda to discredit the Ukrainian government and to create further tensions between Russians and Ukrainians," he said.
The Russian embassy was an outspoken critic of the TSO's decision to cancel Ms. Lisitsa's performances and it took to Twitter to voice its displeasure, inserting the phrase "let Valentina play" in its messages.
"It was very unfortunate, unworthy and outrageous that the TSO dropped her performance," embassy spokesman Kirill Kalinin said Monday.
"This is reminiscent of witch-hunting by [U.S.] Senator [Joseph] McCarthy and the lustration that is being carried out by the party of war in Kiev. It's not appropriate to mix politics and art. She is a very talented pianist and Torontonians missed out on the opportunity to listen to the wonderful Rachmaninoff's piano concerto No. 2."