Tuesday, November 25, 2014


The Power Vertical

What A Bio Putin Is Creating For Pussy Riot

Members of female punk band "Pussy Riot," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), Maria Alyokhina (right), and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit behind bars before a court hearing in Moscow on July 20.
Members of female punk band "Pussy Riot," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), Maria Alyokhina (right), and Yekaterina Samutsevich, sit behind bars before a court hearing in Moscow on July 20.
Six months or so ago, few people in Russia -- and even fewer abroad -- had even heard of Pussy Riot. Now they're not only an international cause celebre, but well on their way to becoming a global brand.
 
And all it took was a little Kremlin-sponsored repression.
 
Sting is the latest artist to publicly express support for three members of the band -- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich -- who are languishing in pretrial detention and face stiff prison terms for their infamous unauthorized performance in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. 
 
It’s appalling that the musicians from Pussy Riot could face prison sentences of up to seven years in jail. Dissent is a legitimate and essential right in any democracy and modern politicians must accept this fact with tolerance. A sense of proportion – and a sense of humor – is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. Surely the Russian authorities will completely drop these spurious charges and allow the women, these artists, to get back to their lives and to their children.
 
Sting's comments, made prior to his July 25 concert at Moscow's Olympic Stadium, follow onstage gestures in support of the imprisoned punk rockers by Faith No More, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Franz Ferdinand during shows in the Russian capital.
 
And "The Moscow Times" reports that Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis is trying to enlist Madonna and Bono into the ranks of artists supporting the women, who have already been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Back in 1964, when a Soviet court in Leningrad sentenced the writer and future Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky to five years of hard labor for "social parasitism," the poet Anna Akhmatova was among the first to see the upside.
 
“What a biography they've created for our little redhead," Akhmatova said. "You’d think he'd hired them.”

And while comparing Pussy Riot to Brodsky, one of world's great writers, is more than a stretch, it is fair to say that the Kremlin has indeed created a quite a biography for these women.
 
Once an obscure performance art act, they are now global stars with the dignity that comes with being oppressed.
 
Their trademark bright pastel ski masks have become a fashion statement as well as a political statement. A popular website (in English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian), a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page chronicles every development in their case.
 
On any given day -- from Miami to Prague to Helsinki -- you can find events like house parties, concerts, and social media events in their support.

And then there are the charges against them, the crime they are accused of committing, and the reasons for their controversial action at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
 
The group's performance in the cathedral on February 21 -- shortly before Vladimir Putin's reelection as president -- was an attempt to draw attention to the close ties between the Kremlin leader and the Russian Orthodox Church and to protest what they consider Russian Patriarch Kirill's inappropriate support for Putin in the election.
 
Contrary to most reports, the women apparently didn't actually play a concert in the church. According to a video released by their lawyers...

WATCH: Pussy Riot mime their performance in the church


...they stood in front of the altar and mimed their performance there and later spliced in the music and lyrics of their anti-Putin "punk prayer" -- "Mother of God, Banish Putin" -- to produce the now-famous final clip.

In the days after the clip was posted on YouTube it was only watched by several hundred people. After they were detained and charged following an outcry by Orthodox officials, it shot up to over a million (and counting). It went viral, in other words, thanks largely to the authorities.
 
Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and Samutsevich have been formally charged with hooliganism. But the indictment also levies a series of other allegations against them including "debasing the feelings and beliefs" of Orthodox Christians, "diminishing the spiritual foundations of the state," and "blasphemy."
 
The language of the indictment, which reflected statements by Orthodox officials -- including Patriarch Kirill -- before the three were charged, starkly illustrated the issue the women were protesting to begin with.
 
The issue of the church's undue influence over the Putin regime is now front and center in Russian politics.
 
What a biography indeed.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Pussy Riot

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA, USA
July 26, 2012 01:20
Seven years in prison is a term too harsh for these three young idiotesses. But Sting is wrong too. The girls' criminally tasteless prank offended the feelings of millions of peoples, and they need to be held responsible for what they did.
In Response

by: Sey from: World
July 26, 2012 05:37
I would quite frankly give them seven years. To be realistic, if they hold them just for some months, they're going to get out and start desecrating holy sites again as soon as they can.

That is the "dissident" behavior.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
July 26, 2012 16:46
You can't be serious? Their statement was POLITICAL not religious! If they were released tomorrow, I highly doubt they will be showing up in churches again. I guess in your mind Putin and his cronies are a blameless lot...

by: Gordon Ball from: Ottawa Canada
July 26, 2012 07:33
Youth is often rebellious, anywhere in the world.

by: michelemichele from: Toronto
July 26, 2012 08:49
...I sure hope the comments cheering their imprisonment are facetious, sarcasm can be hard to detect on the Internet.

7 years for 'hurting peoples' feelings'. holy crap.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
July 26, 2012 16:32
I’m reminded of the story in the NT, where the original Pussy Riot (Salome) does a nice dance for Herod, and he promises to give her whatever she asks for. Herod probably wasn’t expecting having to decapitate one of his favorite pundits, but because he made the promise in public, ordered the Baptist’s head removed.

Personally, I suspect the folks in the Kremlin realize what a crock this whole prosecution has become, but because of their overt coziness with the ROC, they are now afraid to back down and show mercy. And in Putin and the Patriarch’s thinking, how many divisions does Sting (and the virtual community) command? The steel boot, the truncheon and jail cell (combined with their control over major media) almost guarantee that these courageous women will sit in prison for a while.

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 28, 2012 03:59
So I guess if Guttermouth elected to perform, "Mother of God, Cast Out That Black Muslim" on the altar at Saint John the Divine, Americans would just chuckle tolerantly and say, "It's POLITICAL, not religious!!" The band's lead singer was arrested for performing an interpretive dance - a "harmless magic trick" - he called "the disappearing penis" onstage with an underage fan. What is it about artistic expression the Canadian police don't get? At one of their performances, Guttermouth also distributed free shots of Jack Daniels to anyone who bought a T-shirt, some fans were as young as 11. Grow up, America!!! Punk bands are just trying to shake up your dowdy world, learn to love and embrace it!!!

I suppose you'll say that giving booze to underage children and performing thinly-veiled sexual acts with minors are actually illegal, while performing noisy political songs on the altar of a church without permission is not. So I guess Russian lawmakers will have to write that one into the books, because if they don't everyone will be doing it to get attention.

If Guttermouth did it at Saint John the Divine and if they said they were inspired by the leadership of Pussy Riot, would that make it all right?

by: Paul from: Australia
July 29, 2012 08:36
They walked into a church and started to yell out a protest song to against Vladimir Putin. They get what they deserve, not for protesting, but for rudely hijacking a place of worship to create a political commotion. They are opportunistic and behave cowardly, let see them do this in an Islamic prayer room.
In Response

by: Ilya
July 29, 2012 12:55
They wouldn't have been there if the Patriarch hadn't rudely hijacked a religious institution to shill for Putin. And obviously they're pretty brave to do this in a country where you can get years for a peaceful political protest.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 29, 2012 21:55
Really? You can still get years for a peaceful political protest in Russia? Give me an example. Try not to use the phrase "the Soviet Union".

In reality, journalists like Yulia Laynina heap abuse on Putin's head daily, much of it just crazy hyperbole, such as her story for Novaya Gazeta which averred that one of the first things Putin would do once he regained the presidency would be to invade Georgia "again". Lyudmila Alekseeva said her agency, the Moscow Helsinki Group, would refuse to register as a Foreign Agent under the new laws. Neither is in jail, or looks likely to be. Let's see an example of someone who is currently serving years in jail for nothing more than peaceful protest. Even Navalny and Nemtsov only get their token 15-day slaps on the wrist when they attempt to hold protests without permission - required everywhere, even in the most enlightened of democracies - or to break out from a legal demonstration to lead an unsanctioned one. Both appear occasionally to deliberately provoke arrest in order to get attention.
In Response

by: Ilya
July 30, 2012 06:03
I hope you're right Mark. We'll see what happens to them. BTW, what sort of backwards country charges people with blasphemy?
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
August 09, 2012 10:18
People get arrested all the time, while being peaceful, for exercising their right under the Russian constitution to freedom of assembly and protest.

http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15991425,00.html

by: Anonymous
July 30, 2012 19:03
"BTW, what sort of backwards country charges people with blasphemy? "

The United States and The United Kingdom, to name two. Anti-Blasphemy laws remain on the books in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming,

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/21/us/21religion.html?_r=1&em

and while Anti-Blasphemy law was repealed in the UK only in 2008, at least under that title, its stipulations were merely shifted to the umbrella of religious discrimination or hate speech.

http://www.secularism.org.uk/blasphemy-law-returns-with-a-ven1.html

In the American case, a Pennsylvania man was refused permission to name his company I Choose Hell Productions, while in Britain a man was charged with causing "religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress” for leaving anti-religious cartoons in the prayer room at John Lennon airport in Liverpool. Both insisted on their right to do as they please. In neo-soviet Britain, religiously-aggravated offenses carry a potential 7-year prison term, just like in Russia.

It might sound like heresy to you, but there is such a thing as too much freedom. Groups like Pussy Riot are simply testing the envelope to see how obnoxiously they can behave in public and get away with it., and it is in no way an artistic statement. If you decide complete freedom is the goal, better disband your police force, because you won't need it. Robbery, drunk driving and gun crimes are just people expressing themselves, after all. You're either going to have the rule of law, or no rules. If you think the leader of the ROC was himself misusing the church to "shill for Putin", then charges should be brought against him as well. That's how it's done, not a system where the rules have to be bent for people whose cause you happen to champion.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 31, 2012 00:30
Sorry; the "Anonymous" above was me. I guess I forgot to fill in the identification details.
In Response

by: Ilya
July 31, 2012 02:56
Hi Anon. Not letting someone name their business that is ridiculous but it's not quite the same as possible prison time. As for the UK, they've just become very politically correct, not due to any conservative influences but because of their left - and in the case of offences against religion due to fear of certain groups retaliating with violence.
There could be such a thing as too much freedom but Russia is very far from it and people should be allowed to peacefully protest against this. The church has been politicised so it's fair game.
Jack: I agree that those are backwards countries. As are Iran and Syria.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
August 01, 2012 02:37
Hello, Ilya. You keep coming back to "people should be allowed to peacefully protest".. Is this not allowed? I'm curious, because it was my impression that peaceful protest - which does not extend to throwing rocks at the police - was permitted as long as the event had permission from the authorities. So far as I know, no such request has been refused in 2012, and the requirement to obtain permission is the same as regulations in democratic countries.

People that have been arrested as a result of demonstrations recently were arrested because the protest on May 6th turned violent, and there is some evidence that the escalation was deliberate. People who obtain the permission to hold a demonstration and do so without breaking the law have no reason to fear arrest. Deviating from the stated parade rout to hold an unauthorized march on the Kremlin is a violation and would be punished in democratic countries just as it is in Russia.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
August 09, 2012 10:14
I see Mark is being "economical" with the truth as usual.
http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/20/russia-new-wave-detentions-peaceful-protests

by: Jack from: US
July 30, 2012 19:37
"BTW, what sort of backwards country charges people with blasphemy? "
US-supported democratic countries of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Libya, Jordan have laws to execute people for blasphemy


by: Anonymous
July 31, 2012 03:01
The irony of this story. Three young women, probably atheists, are being charged with blasphemy in a city that was the capitol of the Soviet Union just twenty years ago. Maybe they don't like seeing their country fall back into the stone ages?

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

19:16 November 21, 2014

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

RUSSIAN OLYMPIAN CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

 

16:55 November 19, 2014

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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