Putin: We must protect believers from Pussy Riot

Last month's jailing for two years of three Pussy Riot members for their impromptu anti-Putin performance in a Moscow cathedral aroused international concern but he said the past suffering of the church needed to be understood.

"The state is obliged to protect the feelings of the faithful," Putin said in an interview with the state-controlled Russia Today channel broadcast on Thursday and whose transcript was published by the Kremlin.

Putin said protecting religious believers was especially important given the repression of the now hugely powerful Russian Orthodox Church under Soviet rule.

"The country has very grave memories of the initial period of Soviet rule when a huge number of priests suffered," he said. "Many churches were destroyed and all our traditional faiths suffered huge damage."

In his first major comments on the controversy since two-year jail verdict on the three women was handed down last month, Putin also took issue with the moral behaviour of the band members.

"First they went to the Yelokhovsky Cathedral and conducted an orgy there and then they went to the other cathedral and had another orgy," he said, referring to Pussy Riot's most controversial performance in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

Authorities looking into Voina
The president pointed to stunts by the Voina (War) art collective – closely affiliated to Pussy Riot – including the symbolic simulated hanging of migrant workers and homosexuals in a Moscow supermarket to protest discrimination.

"It seems to me that the authorities then needed to already look at this," he said, without saying the performance was a satirical protest about rights abuses.

He then recalled Voina's notorious action in Moscow's biological museum, Fuck for the heir the Puppy Bear, when they had sex in public to mock Dmitry Medvedev assuming the presidency in 2008.

"They had a group sex session in a public place. They then uploaded it onto the internet. The authorities should have looked at this too," Putin said.

Putin went on to air a Soviet-era joke: "Some fans say that group sex is better than one-on-one because – like in any collective work – you can take it easy a bit.

"But uploading it onto the internet is controversial and can be subject to legal proceedings."

'Not getting into it'
But Putin insisted he would not interfere in the Pussy Riot case, despite his familiarity with the women's previous stunts.

"I am trying not to have anything to do with this case at all. I know what is going on but I am not getting into it at all."

Donning brightly-coloured balaclavas, the group of women on February 21 belted out a "prayer" in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral calling on the Virgin Mary to remove Putin.

A Moscow court last month found the three – Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich – guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" and handed them two-year prison terms.

Two other women who performed in the church but were never identified and did not stand trial have fled Russia to evade capture, the group has said.

Investigators last month said they had launched a fresh probe to find the women.

In a sometimes bizarre exchange, Putin tried to make his interviewer, a native English speaker, squirm by asking him if he really understood what "Pussy Riot" meant and if he could translate into Russian.

"Maybe you do not want to for ethical reasons. There is no need to pretend that you don't know. It's indecent," said Putin. – AFP

Stuart Williams
Stuart Williams
Correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP). Previously Frankfurt, Paris, Nicosia, Tehran, Moscow and Istanbul.
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