Russia’s most famous pop star becomes latest to criticise war in Ukraine

Ms Pugacheva, whose catchy love songs helped her become the best-selling singer in the Soviet Union, asked Russia’s justice ministry to declare her a “foreign agent” alongside her husband, the TV comedian and talk-show host Maxim Galkin. Both fled the country at the start of the invasion.

The “foreign agent” label has negative Soviet-era connotations and its bearers have to place it prominently on all content they publish. They also face arduous financial and bureaucratic requirements.

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine has been in overdrive to keep millions of apathetic Russians from opposing its war in Ukraine. It has broadcast hours of analysts’ anti-West and anti-Ukraine propaganda and also banned talk of war, preferring instead to describe its invasion of Ukraine as a “Special Operation” to rescue Ukraine from Nazis.

Ms Pugacheva’s request to be labelled a foreign agent places the Kremlin in a bind, commentators said.

Joshua Yaffa, an author on Russia and correspondent for the New Yorker magazine, said it was “unclear how the Kremlin responds”.

“Ms Pugacheva is as close to universally loved national royalty as it gets—admired as much or more by otherwise apolitical, war-ignoring masses across the country than urban intelligentsia,” he wrote on Twitter.

Further dissent

If Moscow ignores Ms Pugacheva’s request to be labelled a foreign agent it could be seen as granting license to further dissent. The success of Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region has seen criticism of the war aired even on the most staunch propaganda channels.

Russia’s leaders have long sought to associate themselves with Ms Pugacheva, whose biggest hit is a 1983 cover of the Soviet love song, Million Scarlet Roses.

On her 60th birthday in 2009, then-president Dmitry Medvedev awarded her the 3rd Degree Order of Merit for the Fatherland. He is now deputy chairman of Russia’s security council and among the most hawkish figures on the war.

Mr Putin invited Ms Pugacheva to awards ceremonies at the Kremlin and stage-managed photo shoots.

Ksenia Sobchak, the Russian socialite and Mr Putin’s goddaughter, has already backed Pugacheva. She told her 1.25 million Telegram viewers, cryptically, that Pugacheva would “outlive you all”.

Ms Sobchak is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, who was mayor of St Petersburg in the 1990s and is regarded as a mentor to Mr Putin.

In Ukraine, the fiercest fighting continued to focus on the Oskil River in the northeast of the country, roughly 75 miles east of Kharkiv. 

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