‘Almost naked’ party in Moscow triggers controversy and Putin’s wrath

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Putin was shown photos of the event involving scantily dressed celebrities and the daughter of his former political mentor, and expressed distaste for the public display of decadence during wartime, according to a source

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(Bloomberg) — Celebrities who took part in an “almost naked” party in Moscow that stoked public outrage are being punished to intimidate Russia’s elite and please voters as President Vladimir Putin begins his re-election campaign.

Putin was shown photos of the event involving scantily dressed pop stars, actors and the daughter of his former political mentor, and expressed distaste for the public display of decadence during wartime, according to a person close to the Kremlin. That was enough for officials to encourage a crackdown on the high-profile personalities, the person said.

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The stars’ conduct provided a perfect opportunity for the Kremlin to make an example of them for Russia’s elite, many of whom are privately opposed to the war in Ukraine, said Sergei Markov, a political consultant close to the presidential administration. “It was decided to punish them at the highest level,” he said.

The controversy marks an abrupt break from Moscow’s hard-earned image as a hedonistic party city that emerged after the collapse of Communism. Nearly two years into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and with huge troop losses, the Kremlin is seeking to rally public support at the March election by pitching Putin as a defender of traditional Russian values in a confrontation with the “liberal” West.

For Putin, “the country is at war and these people are having fun,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik, a political consultancy, and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. Russia’s elites are in shock and “they’ve all understood now that for the regime this is a sacred cow.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment.

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The conservative backlash prompted some of the famous revelers at Moscow’s Mutabor club for the Dec. 20 party, where the dress code was “almost naked,” to issue groveling apologies on social media, so far to little avail.

Russian lawmakers jumped on the furore to stoke patriotic fervor against the celebrities while the country’s soldiers were dying in Ukraine.

Foreign Ministry spokewoman Maria Zakharova expressed disgust at photos of the event, telling a radio interviewer: “We won’t tolerate this filth anymore.”

Philipp Kirkorov, a flamboyant best-selling pop singer seen as steadfastly loyal to Putin, is being scrubbed from the airwaves including in a pre-recorded New Year’s celebration gala broadcast across Russia. Other popular musicians are facing cancellation of planned concerts.

Rapper Vacio, who attended the party wearing only a sock to cover his genitals, was fined 200,000 rubles (about $2,300) and sentenced to 15 days in prison for hooliganism and breaching Russia’s law against “LGBT propaganda.”

Dima Bilan, who won the Eurovision Song Contest for Russia in 2008, said in a social media post apologizing for attending the party that “I perfectly well understand the resentment of our people, especially our guys who are defending us on the frontlines.”

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Officials began a tax investigation against the event’s organizer, social media influencer Anastasia Ivleeva, who’s also lost valuable advertising contracts. On Tuesday, she became the target of a lawsuit filed at a Moscow court by a group of people demanding 1 billion rubles in compensation for moral distress over the party.

Ksenia Sobchak, whose late father Anatoly was mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s and Putin’s political mentor, issued a video apology “if anyone was offended by my appearance” at the party.

Still, the socialite and former presidential candidate in 2018 elections also offered a more philosophical response to the public anger.

“The world is unfair — it was, it is and always will be,” she said. “Somewhere they’re killing, somewhere children are starving, and somewhere at this time they’re drinking champagne.”

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‘Almost naked’ party in Moscow triggers controversy and Putin’s wrath

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