Alla Pugacheva, Russia's most beloved singer for nearly 60 years, has spoken out against her country's invasion of Ukraine – as far as is known her first criticism of the Kremlin in a career that started in Leonid Brezhnev's time.
Pugacheva, 73, who is known in Russia as Primadonna – for her megastar status and Eurovision hit of that name – called on the Justice Ministry to include her on the list of “foreign agents.” In an Instagram post on Sunday, she voiced solidarity with her husband, comedian Maxim Galkin, whom the Kremlin labeled a foreign agent last week for opposing the war on Ukraine.
Pugacheva's declaration is the most defiant act in Russia's culture world since Vladimir Putin launched his war in February, forcing Russian politicians and cultural figures to respond.
Pugacheva wrote: “I am asking that I be added to the ranks of foreign agents in my beloved country, because I stand in solidarity with my husband, an honest, decent person who is a true and incorruptible Russian patriot, who only wishes for prosperity, a peaceful life and freedom of speech for his motherland and the end of the death of our boys for illusory goals that are turning our country into a pariah and are weighing heavily on the lives of our people.”
On Friday, the Justice Ministry updated its foreign-agents list and included Galkin, saying he was “involved in political activities and received funding from Ukraine.”
The comedian, who spoke out against the war in the invasion's first days, vehemently denied on Instagram that he had taken part in political activities or received funds from Ukraine – only what he was paid for performing in that country a decade or more ago. Either way, the declaration of Galkin as a foreign agent makes clear he won't be returning to Russia anytime soon.
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Galkin, Pugacheva and their children left for Israel a month into the war, moving to Latvia a few months later. From there Galkin has been traveling the world performing stand-up comedy, while Pugacheva and the children returned to Russia, where she attended Mikhail Gorbachev's funeral.
In recent months, the couple has fought back against attacks from Russian politicians, cultural figures and others over their departure from Russia and Galkin’s anti-war statements. Their platform has been Instagram, but while Galkin responded with videos stressing his right to mock politicians and express his opinions in general, Pugacheva sufficed with short and stinging posts, until now.
On Sunday she switched from hints to direct statements, though it's clear she tried to remain within the bounds of Russia’s military censor.
Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy chairman of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, responded on Telegram that the singer had “lost touch with reality.”
“She will no longer find support among decent Russian people,” Tolstoy wrote. “We will win without her songs. … Now her place is in the historical museum of the times of the USSR.”
He said that unlike Galkin, she won't have another country – hinting at Galkin's Jewish roots that give him and his family the right to Israeli citizenship. “And she will not become a foreign agent, and she will no longer find support among decent Russian people. We will win without her songs.”
Mikhail Delyagin, the deputy chairman of the Duma commission investigating foreign interference in Russian affairs, responded in a stranger way. “Let her say crap and they'll turn her on,” he said. “Or let him take the money for destructive activities in the Russian Federation. There is an appropriate article in the Russian Federation's criminal code.”
Pugacheva’s post garnered almost half a million likes in just a few hours – very respectable considering that during the war the site has only been accessible in Russia through virtual private networks.
Most of the tens of thousands of responses to her post expressed support, admiration and thanks. Journalist, socialite and former politician Ksenia Sobchak – who returned to Russia after receiving Israeli citizenship in April – responded with three hearts. This gesture received hundreds of responses, some of them angry, others mocking.
“Ksenia Anatolyevna cannot allow herself the luxury to say what she thinks,” one person wrote. Others called for Sobchak to be declared a foreign agent too, while others accused her of being obsequious.
Actress Julia Vysotskaya also responded. She's married to film director Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky, who in recent years has become a supporter of the Kremlin, as has his brother, director Nikita Mikhalkov. Vysotskaya sent Pugacheva a heart and an emoji of raised hands.
But another user wrote: “I hope some of you will notice, traitors like you.” That received hundreds of likes.
Many of Putin’s opponents on Russian social media accused Pugacheva of being too soft and too late in her response to the war. They said her choice of words was too cautious and noted that she didn't mention the word Ukraine in her request to the Justice Ministry.
Still, a joke from the early '80s was mentioned time after time under her post, the one about Brezhnev being called a “minor political wheeler-dealer from the Alla Pugacheva era.” It was applied to Putin as well.