Vladimir Putin Craftily Suggests that Pussy Riot Shouldn’t Be Punished ‘Too Harshly’

In a sort of surprising twist to the Pussy Riot saga, Russian President, shirtless outdoorsman, and Siberian tiger whisperer Vladimir Putin said that Pussy Riot's bandmembers shouldn't "be judged so harshly" for their impromptu punk rock performance in February on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Church. Putin explained that, though he still regards Pussy Riot with a disapproving frown, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich should all be shown some leniency for their act of civil disobedience.

It's fleetingly ironic that Putin would express a desire for Pussy Riot to be shown leniency, considering that the band was protesting his enduring grip on political power in Russia. Observers, however, believe that Putin's move is a highly-calculated effort to reassure Western consumers of Russian energy exports that due-process reigns supreme in a country that has long been criticized for judicial corruption and human rights violations. Nikolai Polozov, Pussy Riot's defense lawyer, said that Putin's statement is very clearly political, even if it indicates that his clients might avoid the maximum seven-year sentence for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred":

In my opinion this is a gesture towards the West, towards the consumers of Russian energy resources and [Mr Putin's] business partners. Given the significance of such signals, we can expect some softening of the prosecution's position.

Though the Russian government has characterized the Pussy Riot trial as part of a wider crackdown on dissent and civil disobedience, opinion polls show that Russians aren't buying it and instead seem to sympathize with the punk rockers who've been languishing in jail since February. Polozov also thinks that, despite what Putin is saying now, the Russian leader is not to be trusted. "To tell the truth," he tweeted, "I don't believe Putin. If the signal gets through and the court reacts, OK, but if not we will fight on."

Vladimir Putins says Pussy Riot should not be treated too harshly [Telegraph]