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Pussy Riot Says Putin Should Fear Losing Control Over Russia

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Dec. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The Pussy Riot punk performers jailed for protesting against Vladimir Putin remained defiant in their first public appearance in Moscow after their release, painting the Russian president as paranoid and power hungry.

“If a person makes it his only goal to control everything, sooner or later, and most likely sooner, control will slip out of his grasp,” Maria Alekhina, 26, one of the activists freed under an amnesty last week, told reporters in the Russian capital today. “It’s impossible to control everything.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova accused Putin, 61, who has been in power for 14 years, of being a closed person who is “afraid of many things” and believes in a conspiracy by Western powers against Russia.

The imprisonment of the Pussy Riot members for hooliganism after they staged a protest act against Putin in the country’s main Orthodox cathedral drew condemnation from around the world, including pop stars Madonna and Paul McCartney, while in Russia, their protest in Moscow’s main cathedral outraged many.

Five Pussy Riot performers wearing colorful balaclavas sang a “punk prayer” in the Christ the Savior cathedral in February 2012, calling on the Virgin Mary to “expel” Putin. A Moscow court jailed Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich for inciting religious hatred and hooliganism in August 2012 for two years. Samutsevich was released on a suspended sentence, while the other two weren’t identified and remain at large.

Opinion about their release was split evenly, with 41 percent against an amnesty and 40 percent in favor, according to a survey of 1,603 people in 45 Russian regions carried by the Levada Center from Dec. 20 to Dec. 24. The margin of error was 3.4 percent. In a similar sampling by the same group in April, 56 percent of the respondents thought the judgment against Pussy Riot was fair, while 26 percent said it was too harsh.

Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, 24, said they plan to focus on helping prisoners in Russia, and proposed cooperation with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly the country’s most famous inmate.

Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and owner of Yukos Oil Co., on Dec. 20 after a decade in prison, and dispatched him to Germany.

Khodorkovsky, who ruled out any political challenge to Putin, while vowing to campaign for the rights of political prisoners in Russia, would be a good candidate for president, Tolokonnikova said.

Putin granted clemency to as many as 22,000 people last week to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia’s constitution and as he prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February. Among them were four of the dozens of protesters detained for demonstrations before his May 2012 inauguration. Alekhina and Tolokonnikova were due for release in March.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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