Putin’s revenge: how the Kremlin presents itself as a “traitor”

For a long time, the head of the Kremlin Putin was able to rely on the big names of Russian show business. But the stars who helped bolster his system are now turning away – and being branded traitors.

World opera star Anna Netrebko took several weeks to settle accounts with Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin over his war in Ukraine. “My position is clear. I am not a member of any political party and I am not related to any Russian leader,” she recently said through her German lawyer, just over a month after the start of the war. The singer had already openly supported Putin in the presidential elections. The 50-year-old, who celebrated her birthday in the Kremlin last year, has since fallen out of favor. But she is far from the only celebrity. Some who have long supported the system are turning their backs on Putin – with consequences.

The anger of the system quickly hit Netrebko. The head of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, called her a “traitor”. Netrebko, who lives in Austria, wants to keep his prestigious performances in the West. “Greed for enrichment and thirst for glory exceed love of country,” said Putin confidant, considered by opponents of the Kremlin as one of the most corrupt representatives of the apparatus of power Russian. Volodin also praised artists who supported Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

On state television, as in ads between programs, supposed celebrities constantly appear to praise Putin’s journey. Star conductor and friend of Putin Valeri Gergiev, a longtime patron of Netrebko, has also behaved faithfully to the system.

More and more stars are keeping their distance from Putin

But some longtime supporters of the system are turning their backs on Putin’s war. Pop singer Alla Pugacheva, who previously sang “Why Are Wars There” with Udo Lindenberg on stage, and her husband, star comedian Maxim Galkin, are in Israel. Galkin hosted children’s programs and was head of humor on state television. When asked by his audience of millions that he should provide entertainment again, he said in a video, “I don’t see any spiritual or moral possibility of doing so.” That’s why his Instagram and Telegram appearances aren’t what they used to be until February 24.

It was the day Putin ordered the war of aggression against Ukraine. The Pugacheva/Galkin pairing isn’t the only crack in the foundations of Russia’s entertainment industry. Kremlin-loved show star Ivan Urgant said emotionally after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: “Fear and pain. No to war.” As a result, his popular evening show on state television was cancelled. Some representatives of state media also threw to the ground. The faces of celebrities have disappeared from television.

TV shows had to be canceled out of necessity

Former Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky was forced to demand a reduction in entertainment. “It looks a bit funny these days. We all try to pretend everything is the same, but no,” said the politician, who is also Putin’s negotiator in talks with Ukraine to put end to the war. So far he has had no success.

Since the beginning of the war in Russia, the tendency to divide stars into two categories has intensified: those who support Putin and his war – and those who reject him. Support for the attack on Ukraine is now seen as a test of patriotism. Anyone who is not at least a follower risks exclusion. Dodging becomes more and more difficult.

On the other hand, many celebrities traditionally critical of the system who have contributed a lot to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the metropolis of Moscow have made a clear distinction. They openly opposed the war and left the country. Among them are stars such as film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikow, very active in Germany, actress Tschulpan Chamatowa and blogger Yuri Dud. Singer Zemfira, rapper Oxxxymiron and rocker Boris Grebenshchikov appeared together on Instagram during a solidarity concert for Ukraine. Zemfira released the anti-war song “Ne Strelajte!” (“Do not pull!”).

Apostates are insulted

Traditionally, Russian President Putin has no time for such criticism. He himself has long since launched the hunt for all those who earn money in Russia but enjoy a good life abroad; on those who are “ready to sell their own mother”. “Every people, and especially the Russian people, can always distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors – and spit them out like a fly that just flew into your mouth,” Putin said in March.

In the case of comedian Urgant, however, it shows that patriotism is not so easy. Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov criticized Urgant as a “coward who fled at a time of instability”. Putin’s friend reacted angrily to statements by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who campaigned for the popular show host.

“I know Urgant very well, he is a great patriot,” Peskov said. There are hawks in Russia who think they see enemies of the state everywhere. But not all those who left the country are immediately opponents. At the same time, he made it clear that responsible Russian citizens who disagree with the Kremlin cannot expect anything good. There are those who blame the power apparatus for everything and tarnish the reputation of Russian soldiers – “They are the enemies of the state and we will fight against them.”

Ulf Mauder

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