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Russia's Pussy Riot Frenzy (Updated)


A scrawled message demanding freedom for jailed members of Pussy Riot in an apartment where two women were killed in Kazan.

A scrawled message demanding freedom for jailed members of Pussy Riot in an apartment where two women were killed in Kazan.

Earlier this week, Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Orthodox Church's social affairs department, issued a dire warning in response to vandals chopping down crosses in Arkhangelsk and in Chelyabinsk Oblast.

"People who are currently cutting down crosses in the future may turn to violence and murder," Chaplin said on August 26.

The vandalism took place shortly after three members of the feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for an anti-Kremlin protest performance in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February.

Despite the lack of any real evidence suggesting a connection, the state-controlled media quickly linked the incidents to the group's supporters.

Then, four days after Chaplin's comments, on August 30, the Investigative Committee announced that two women were brutally stabbed to death in their apartment in Kazan. Investigators said the inscription "Free Pussy Riot," written "presumably" in blood, was found in the apartment.

It didn't take the pro-Kremlin Russian media long to run with the meme.

A headline on the website of the state-run "Vesti" television news program began: "They've Started To Kill For Pussy Riot."

Kristina Potupchik, the former spokeswoman for the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, also wasted no time in drawing conclusions.

On her blog, she juxtaposed a photograph of the "Free Pussy Riot" inscription in Kazan with one from the 1969 murders committed by followers of Charles Manson in California, in which they wrote "Death To Pigs" on the walls of their victims' homes. Potupchik wrote that Pussy Riot's supporters "will not get away" with the crime.

And Dimitry Smirnov, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for Relations with the Police and Armed Forces, said that "blood is on the conscience" of those who supported Pussy Riot members during their trial. Smirnov also called on Paul McCartney, Amnesty International, and others to renounce the group.

It was a full-court press. But as the day progressed, holes began to appear in the initial version of events.

First, Andrei Sheptitsky, a Kazan-based spokesman for the Investigative Committee, said the evidence suggested the crime was committed by either a psychopath or a drug addict and that the inscription appeared to be an attempt to cover up the crime and mislead police.

Then, the online Dozhd TV noted that the initial reports of the crime in the Kazan media, which appeared in the evening on August 29 when the bodies were discovered, made no mention of the "Free Pussy Riot" inscription.

WATCH THE DOZHD TV REPORT HERE:



And Petr Verzilov, husband of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, later tweeted a link to a report on the killings in the daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" that said police worked on the crime scene "all night." The report also made no mention of the inscription.

The fact that reports of the inscription first appeared on LifeNews, a website with ties to the security services, also raised suspicions that the official story might not be entirely accurate.

Nikolai Polozov, an attorney for the three jailed members of the group, called the crime in Kazan "horrible," adding that either it was committed by a psychopath or was a "horrendous provocation."

In an interview with Dozhd TV, Geidar Dzhemal, chairman of the Kazan-based Islamic Committee of Russia, said he had no doubt that the attempts to link the killings in Kazan -- and the vandalism against the crosses in Arkhangelsk and Chelyabinsk -- to Pussy Riot supporters was orchestrated by the authorities:
This is a blatant provocation by the cops. It's clear that it is anti-Pussy Riot, so it's security services that are behind it -- just as the cross-chopping epidemic (eds: recent cases of Orthodox wooden crosses chopped down in several Russian cities) was also ordered by security services. It seems someone tried too hard because it's not very convincing that it was done by Pussy Riot supporters. It's written in such big block letters, so it's clear it came from the cops.

This story is developing very quickly and I am reluctant to draw any firm conclusions just yet. But there is a lot here that raises serious questions. I'll leave it at that for now.

-- Brian Whitmore

UPDATE: Police in Kazan say they have detained a man who confessed to killing the two women. The man, identified as 38-year-old university professor Igro Danilevsky, knew one of the victims and denied any connection to Pussy Riot. Interfax reported that he also confessed to trying to "fake a ritual killing" and mislead police by writing "Free Pussy Riot" on the wall.

(A big thanks to my colleague Pavel Butorin of @RusPoliceWatch for help in compiling material for this post.)

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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