MOSCOW -- Artemy Troitsky has made a career out of criticizing musicians. So slamming a prominent rock star probably didn't seem like such a bad idea.
But when Troitsky called Vadim Samoylov, the black-clad, mop-haired former front man of the disbanded gothic rock band Agata Kristi, a "trained poodle" for Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, it landed him in hot water.
Troitsky, prominent rock critic and founding editor of Russian "Playboy," made his comments in a television documentary broadcast in January about musicians who collaborate with the ruling elite.
Samoylov has since sued Troitsky for 1 million rubles (about $36,000) in damages over the comment. Moreover, prosecutors have opened a criminal libel case against Troitsky that could send him to prison for two years. The criminal trial is scheduled to begin on June 1.
Speaking to RFE/RL amid ceiling-high shelves of CDs and vinyl record albums in the living room of his Moscow apartment, Troitksy says the combined civil and criminal cases against him appear to be politically motivated.
“The two cases are completely the same and what’s more they have come at exactly the same time," he says. "That’s why it is entirely logical to suggest that these cases are somehow coordinated and directed from the same center.”
Moreover, Samoylov is known to be close to Surkov, the Kremlin's powerful chief ideologist and political fixer.
Surkov actually penned the lyrics for the song “Spider,” which was featured on Agata Kristi’s 2006 album “Peninsula 2.”
Penal Servitude For Criticizing Public Officials
Troitsky, a dog lover and owner of a black Scottish terrier named Churchill, has defended his comments, saying he does not consider calling somebody a poodle to be an insult.
He has argued in court that poodles are actually “kind, intelligent, endearing dogs.” He said he would not be offended if he was called “Che Guevara’s trained poodle.”
Aleksandr Glushenkov, a lawyer specializing in libel cases, agrees that the simultaneous filing of criminal and civil cases is "unusual" and could suggest political motives:
“The article on libel is often used by various government officials in order to fight people with different points of view,” he said.
Glushenkov says the case is reminiscent of journalist Irek Murtazin who in 2009 was sentenced to 21 months in a penal colony in a criminal libel case after he published critical material about Mintimer Shaimiyev, then president of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan.
Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov
Other analysts, like Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information, discourage interpreting the case as politically driven.
“I understand that actually Vladislav Surkov is not entirely happy with his name cropping in court and being tied to this case, but he really is powerless to do anything about it," he says. "I think the whole case is to do with Samoylov taking offense.”
'One Of The Foulest Cops In Russia'
But Samoylov isn't the only person to take offense at Troitsky's biting comments.
The rock critic is also facing prosecution in a separate criminal libel case for publicly calling a police officer "one of the foulest cops in Russia."
That incident stemmed from a controversial March 2010 automobile accident in which a car owned by the vice president of the oil giant Lukoil, which was allegedly driving on the wrong side of the road, crashed into another vehicle killing two women.
Police blamed the accident on the women, sparking a wave of protests.
Troitsky has already lost a 130,000 ruble ($4,600) civil judgment in that case and is due to begin appealing that ruling on June 16
Troitsky also irritated the authorities last year when he arranged for Yuri Shevchuk, the lead singer of the rock band DDT and a fierce critic of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, to appear on stage with Bono during a U2 concert in Moscow.
Untainted Opposition Figures
Troitsky says he doesn't know exactly who is behind the cases against him, but adds that punishing him provides an example to the public of the risk of opposing the Kremlin.
“It quite simply suits those people in the Russian authorities who fear that publicly engaged but non-political people like myself are starting to air their true feelings and speak openly about social, political and cultural events in our lives -- and what is more, be very critical," he says.
Troitsky says that with the political season in full swing ahead of State Duma elections in December and a presidential poll next March, the authorities are worried about a new wave of "uncompromised" opposition figures that have appeared on the scene.
Environmentalist Yevgeniya Chirikova belongs to a new breed of "nonpolitical" Russian opposition figures.
He cites Yevgenia Chirikova, head of the movement to save Khimki Forest, Sergei Kanaev, a leader of the “blue bucket” movement against government cars that flout traffic laws, and Aleksei Navalny, a prominent blogger and anti-corruption activist as examples of the new trend.
“This movement really worries the authorities because they don’t know what to do with them," he says.
"It’s a nonpolitical movement. They can’t accuse them of being political animals chasing power or say they are funded by American money.
"They cannot make claims against these people and in that sense they are invulnerable. They are much more popular among Russians than bona fide politicians. I do not head any of these movements, but I take part in all of them.”
Chirikova and Navalny have faced legal and administrative troubles of their own.
Chirikova says Russia's Child Protection Services have investigated her following unsubstantiated allegations that she was mistreating her children.