In February, three members of a female Russian performance art/punk rock/feminist activist group took off some of their clothing, ran into a Moscow Russian Orthodox Church, and jumped around while yelling a protest song. They were arrested, and immediately became an international sensation. Today, the three—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich—were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism” and offending the Orthodox observers. The group’s intent was to be provocative—they call themselves Pussy Riot, no doubt leading to thousands of embarrassing Google searches for those who don’t follow Russian politics but wanted to know why Garry Kasparov was beaten and arrested by the Russian police today.
An offensive prank of this kind may be illegal, but it’s hard to make the case the girls deserve years behind bars. Not surprisingly, the trial was rigged in classic Vladimir Putin style, even though journalists were there to witness the case and write about it. It’s become increasingly unclear exactly what point the Putin regime thinks it’s making by staging this sham trial and imprisoning these popular and precocious young women. Putin certainly felt the need to defend the Church, which has supported him over the past year politically (though not as much as Putin would have liked, having criticized Putin’s handling of the recent political protests) and with regard to Russia’s Syria policy of nonintervention, since the Church rightly worries that the West has no plan to protect Syria’s Christians, just as the Arab Spring in Egypt gave way to the open persecution of that country’s Coptic Christians.