Russian pop megastar Alla Pugacheva speaks out against war in Ukraine in major snub to Kremlin

Russian pop singer Alla Pugacheva speaks at a congress of pro-reform Pravoye Delo (A Just Cause) party in Moscow, on Sept. 15, 2011.

Soviet-Russian pop music icon Alla Pugacheva has spoken out against the war in Ukraine in a move likely to infuriate the Kremlin and possibly mark a turning point in public opinion about the “special military operation.”

Pugacheva, 73, posted her comments Sunday on her Instagram account, which has 3.5 million followers. Her post has already received nearly 800K likes and 110K comments.

It comes at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing growing criticism from both supporters and opponents of the war after a Ukrainian offensive routed Russian forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Pugacheva is the highest-profile celebrity to come out against the seven-month war in Ukraine.

Since launching her career in the mid-1960s, Pugacheva has sold more than 250 million records. In 1991, she was awarded the title of “People’s Artist of the USSR”—the highest honor possible for a musician. She also received top honors from the Russian Federation.

Politico wrote that Pugacheva ”is as beloved as America’s sweetheart Dolly Parton, as ubiquitous as Madonna, as closely watched as a Kardashian.”

On Friday, Russia’s Ministry of Justice added Pugacheva’s husband Maxim Galkin, a comedian, singer and TV presenter, to its register of “foreign agents.” Galkin, 46, who was born in Odesa, was accused of conducting political activities on behalf of Ukraine and receiving Ukrainian funding. He denied the allegations.

That spurred Pugacheva to ask the Ministry of Justice in her Instagram post on Sunday to add her name to the list of foreign agents.

“I am asking you to include me on the foreign agent’s list of my beloved country,” Pugacheva told the Justice Ministry. “Because I stand in solidarity with my husband who is an honest and ethical person, a true and incorruptible Russian patriot, who only wishes for prosperity, peace and freedom of expression in his Motherland.” Pugacheva said.

She added that Galkin wanted “the end of the deaths of our boys for illusory goals that make our country a pariah and weigh heavily on the lives of its citizens.”

The official RIA Novosti news agency, citing an unnamed law enforcement source, reported Tuesday that the Ministry of Internal Affairs had received a request to investigate Pugacheva for discrediting the Russian army. The source said that a Russian woman had filed a complaint against Pugacheva at a Moscow police station, but did not specify whether police had opened an investigation.

Those labelled as “foreign agents” must place that designation on all content they publish, including social media posts. They are also subject to additional government scrutiny, particularly regarding their finances. Any violation of the arduous regulations can result in criminal charges.

The law was first introduced in response to protests against Putin’s return to the presidency in the 2012 elections. The designation is used to target individuals and organizations opposed to Kremlin policies.

After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, authorities have introduced even harsher measures to suppress dissent, handing out fines and prison sentences. In early March, Putin signed legislation allowing prison sentences of up to 15 years for posting allegedly false information about the military.

Galkin has been an outspoken critic of the war, condemning atrocities committed by Russian troops and stating that there was no justification for invading Ukraine.

CNN reported that in an Instagram post on Saturday, Galkin reacted to his designation as a foreign agent:

“The rationale for this decision was that I allegedly received funds from Ukraine, funds for which I carried out political activities. Well, first of all, I’m not involved in politics. From the stage at my concerts, I am engaged in a humorous genre, political satire, and I have been doing this for 28 years.

“I do not sell my opinion and my thoughts and do not buy someone else’s,” he added. “I don’t trade conscience. As for Ukraine, once, well, 10 years ago, when I gave concerts there, I received money, but for many years I have not received a penny from Ukraine, so, of course, the reason is far-fetched and I don’t know why this is happening now.”

Galkin and Pugacheva left Russia for Israel in March with their twins (through a surrogate mother). Pugacheva has retired from performing, but Galkin toured abroad with his stand-up show, which includes his impression of Putin.

Pugacheva returned to Russia last month to enroll her children in school, while Galkin remained abroad. She took part in a farewell ceremony for the late Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and in an Instagram post said she hadn’t “cried like this in a long time.” Her post was an implicit criticism of Putinism.

“The EPOCH in which we gained freedom, ceased to be the ‘Empire of Evil’ for the whole World, and the fear for the future of our children has disappeared,” Pugacheva wrote, adding that Gorbachev “rejected violence as a way of politics and keeping his own power.”

Pugacheva’s comments criticizing the war in Ukraine are a clear snub to the Kremlin leadership. She has been fêted by Putin several times, but has never publicly supported him.

So now the question is whether her comments will have any impact on public opinion in Russia regarding the war.

Artemy Troitsky, a leading figure in Russian music who left the country in 2014 because of his opposition to Putin, told the BBC that her intervention was significant.

“Her fame is monumental and she’s a legendary figure. I think this is something that many people have expected her to do some time ago because her husband, Maxim Galkin, he’s made his anti-war statements already many times and several months ago.

“I think this is her first ever strong political statement and this in itself, of course, is quite shocking for the people in Russia. I think she’s not the only one who may turn the public opinion. The obvious wrongdoings of the Russian army and the offensive of the Ukrainian army and the worsening economic situation and so on, all those factors they work against Putin and against the war.

“But I think that morally and emotionally this statement of Alla Pugacheva is maybe one of the most strong efforts in these directions.”

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked about Pugacheva’s comments. He told reporters: “I’m not going to comment on that topic at all. I don’t think it’s an issue that has anything to do with the Kremlin.”

But such criticism of the war in Ukraine from one of the most famous people in Russia has set off intense reactions on social media—and could be a watershed moment if her voice breaks through the propaganda wall.

Meduza, a Latvia-based Russian-language news website also designate a foreign agent, published a roundup of reactions to Pugacheva’s Instagram post.

Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy chairman of the State Duma, said:

“It’s unfortunate that Pugacheva, formerly the country’s most popular singer, has so lost touch with reality that she stands in solidarity with people who want Russia to be defeated. She now belongs in a historical museum dedicated to the USSR.

“Probably the saddest thing that can happen to an artist is to stop identifying with her country and her people and fall from the history of her homeland. … She’s not going to become a foreign agent, and she’s not going to find any support among decent Russian people. We’ll win without her songs.”

Lev Shlosberg, an opposition politician, said:

“The diversity of the reactions to Alla Pugacheva’s statement from various members of society reflects people’s growing fatigue with the government’s policy and the complete uncertainty of the future. ..

For a rational government, this would serve as a signal to reevaluate and reconsider its actions, but there’s no reason to expect that from Russia’s right now: the system isn’t oriented around adjustring its policies to meet society’s demands.

“Nonetheless, the interesting thing about the situation surrounding Pugacheva’s statement is that it was doubtless heard both by the elite and by wider society. The reactions of sympathy and direct support show what direction the tide of public opinion is turning.”

Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian state TV host, said:

“Alla Pugacheva dramatically stood up for Maxim Galkin, who’s been named a foreign agent, trashed Russia’s name, and collected money for Ukraine.

“The way she imagines it, everyone is supposed to burst into tears, admire her courage, and forgive Maxim immediately. I sincerely hope that won’t happen.

“Old age doesn’t always mean wisdom. Sometimes it just means old age.’

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said:

“The rebellion of someone as well-known as Alla [Pugacheva] against the Putin system means: The undermining of the legitimacy of the leading mythology of the Putin regime; The undermining of the main narrative justifying this war; An explosion in the center of the self-conception of the citizens who make up the base of the Putin regime’s legitimation; The beginning of the end of this regime.”

Here is Pugacheva performing one of her biggest hits, “Millions of Scarlet Roses.”

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