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Russia's biggest pop star slams Putin's war in Ukraine

Juri Rescheto
September 20, 2022

Singer Alla Pugacheva is the most prominent Russian celebrity to speak out against the Kremlin's war. Over the weekend, she sparked a furor with an Instagram post that said the war had turned Russia into a "pariah."

Alla Pugacheva wears a hat and looks at the camera while sitting on a plush red chair
Pugacheva is the most prominent Russian celebrity to take a critical stance on the warImage: Vyacheslav Prokofyev/ITAR-TASS/IMAGO

No, Alla Pugacheva didn't use the word "war" in public — that's a punishable offense in Russia. Nor did she explicitly mention Ukraine. Still, what Russia's most beloved pop star of all time posted over the weekend hit like a bomb. That's because millions of Russians see it as a protest, albeit indirect, against what the Kremlin calls its "special military operation." And Pugacheva is by far the most prominent person to have dared express such sentiments publicly.

The post on Pugacheva's Instagram account has a back story. Last Friday, her husband, Maxim Galkin, a famous Russian comedian and until recently a TV star, was declared a so-called foreign agent by the Justice Ministry. Galkin has been living abroad for several months, leaving Russia after a backlash against his criticism of the invasion of Ukraine, along with the missile strikes on Ukrainian cities. Instead of touring Russia, he has since toured abroad, donating the proceeds from his appearances to Ukraine.

Pugacheva's post was a reaction to Galkin's new "agent" status. In a biting appeal, she asked the Justice Ministry to add her to the ranks of foreign agents as well: "For I am in solidarity with my husband, an honest, decent and sincere person, a real and unbuyable patriot of Russia who wishes his homeland prosperity, a peaceful life, freedom of speech, and an end to our boys dying for illusory goals that make our country a pariah and complicate the lives of our citizens."

Russian state-run media agencies reported that authorities had launched an investigation into Pugacheva for "discrediting" the army, an act punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Alla Pugacheva and her husband, Maxim Galkin, smile and embrace for a photo
Alla Pugacheva and her husband, Maxim Galkin, together in 2021Image: Sergei Karpukhin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Mixed Instagram reactions

From Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, the 73-year-old Pugacheva enjoys widespread respect. For millions of fans, she has been a legend since the 1970s. And, if there is such a thing as the soul of the people, then Alla Borisovna Pugacheva, with her greatest hit, "A Million Red Roses," would embody it. Pugacheva was also Russia's best-known singer internationally for decades. More than 250 million records and CDs with her hits were sold. Many of her songs are still sung by young and old alike at Russian celebrations.

Pugacheva's private life — in particular, her marriage to Galkin, who is 27 years her junior — is also an ongoing topic of interest in the Russian media. Unlike Galkin, Pugacheva did not make any political statements after the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. Many saw her silence as an eloquent subliminal protest of the Kremlin. But this weekend's more overt protest has been met with mixed reactions.

Some of her 3.5 million Instagram followers wrote: "Respect for Alla," "Bravo, Alla Borisovna!" and "The best performance by Alla Pugacheva for many years." Others, however, attacked the pop diva for not going far enough to explicitly criticize the war, but merely seeking to protect her husband. Still others have called the singer a traitor to her homeland. Russian politicians, artists and fellow celebrities have all weighed in on Pugacheva's words.

Pugacheva's 'strong slap'

Political scientist Abbas Galyamov called Pugacheva's post a "strong slap in the face" for the Kremlin on his Telegram channel. The mere fact of her politicization could create a feeling that "enough is really enough" among Russians.

Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky went even further on his Telegram channel. "Alla Pugacheva is becoming the de facto leader of the anti-war sector of Russian society," he wrote.

Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy chairman of Russia's State Duma, on the other hand, accused the singer of losing her senses: "I regret that Pugacheva, once the country's most popular singer, has lost touch with reality so much and is in solidarity with those who today wish Russia's defeat."

The Kremlin declined to comment on the matter. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Pugacheva's words are "not an issue that has any relation to the Kremlin."

This article was originally written in German.

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Juri Rescheto DW Riga Bureau Chief