Call this an excellent demonstration of the “ring of steel” at Sochi, even if it’s aimed at dissent rather than terrorism. Two former members of the Russian protest band Pussy Riot and several other human-rights activists found themselves hauled off to jail while walking near the Olympic Village yesterday. The two band members were released a short while ago, but the activists may still be detained:
Two members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot have been released after being detained by police in Sochi, the host city of the Winter Olympics.
No charges were filed against Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, who were held along with several other people near the city’s ferry terminal, a popular area for fans celebrating the Olympics.
Supposedly the arrests related to the theft of a purse at their hotel, but the arrests of nine people sounds a bit like overkill for a simple purse snatching. The two women called ABC News to explain what happened:
“We were surrounded by FSB and other security forces and they stopped us every day. The day before yesterday they detained us to inspect our documents, we spent nine hours in the police station,” she said.
“Yesterday we spent hours at the FSB and they openly told us that we are wanted. And today we were walking along the sea near the seaport building in Sochi and we were surrounded by police, and they arrested us, saying that something was stolen in our hotel. They used force, shoved us into the car and brought us into the police station, locked in a room surrounded by police,” Tolokonnikova added.
Police did not respond to calls by ABC News for comment.
One of the other activists detained said they were arrested after leaving a church and were walking toward the port. A total of nine people were arrested, Semyon Simonov said, and are still being held for questioning. He said they were not carrying any banners or shouting at the time of the arrest.
The pair had come to Russia to cut an English-language protest song, “Putin Will Make You Love Your Motherland,” which they see as the reason for the FSB’s intense interest rather than a missing purse. They had been expelled from Pussy Riot last month for spending too much time on activism for prison reform rather than “feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult,” the group said in a statement quoted by ABC. For some reason, that reminds me of this (NSFW):
We can joke about this, but the Russians take the propaganda fight seriously. To get a sense of just how seriously they take it, state-owned Rossiya 1 pre-empted the Olympics to run an 85-minute program explaining to Russians how the United States planned to create a legion of traitors to dismantle the Soviet Union — er, I mean the Russian Federation:
An attack on the “daily betrayals” that Russia suffers, the film argued that America has waged and still wages a cunning psychological war against this country, picking up where the Nazis left off in 1945. (This wouldn’t be Russia without a dark reference to World War II.) Americans want nothing less, it said, than the breakup of the Russian Federation.
“Their aim,” said a historian named Yuri Zhukov, “is to create as many traitors as possible, who would be able to cooperate with the new occupiers.”
Coming in the midst of a winter sports festival designed to promote international harmony, and just days after President Vladimir Putin’s amicable visit to the American Olympic house here, the prime-time film on nationwide TV portrayed the United States as an implacably hostile and astonishingly competent foe.
Anti-Americanism is par for the course on state-supported Russian TV, but the airing of the film on a night of Olympic action made an especially unsubtle point.
To prove its case, the film interspersed clips of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels with snippets from 1950s American TV ads, paused briefly on the punk protest group Pussy Riot, and cut from the toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad by U.S. troops in 2003 to the toppling of a statue of Lenin in Kiev, Ukraine, by protesters in December.
This seems like a good time to remind people of the “reset button” that was supposed to improve relations between the US and Russia, because Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton blamed the existing issues on George W. Bush’s supposed arrogance:
Oh, by the way, about those theft charges? Er …
Pussy riot made a splash in sochi. Husband of one of members says charges of theft dropped pic.twitter.com/3BCtCyeOfa
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) February 18, 2014