Pussy Riot Members To Be Released From Russian Jail; Is Putin Reforming?

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced at a news conference that the two remaining members of Pussy Riot will be released from jail. The reasoning? No, not because he forgives them for performing the "punk prayer" in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (he doesn't). Putin says he's releasing the band members because it's the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution, and he would like to grant amnesty in honor of that anniversary.

The two remaining Pussy Riot members in jail, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, will be released three months ahead of schedule — their original prison sentence would have kept them in jail until March 2013. They had been charged with "hooliganism" back in August 2012, after they chanted a somewhat irreverent prayer to Putin in a cathedral. The Kremlin's move to imprison them brought a wave of controversy that swept around the world.

While the release of the Pussy Riot duo may be the big news, Greenpeace activists will also be released as part of the amnesty. Also known as the Arctic 30, these 30 Greenpeace activists had protested against arctic oil drilling and were promptly also arrested for "hooliganism."

We have a feeling that the Kremlin doesn't know what a hooligan looks like.

While Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are being released, let's not suddenly think Putin's decision makes the Kremlin any better. Tolokonnikova was jailed under terrible conditions at a labor camp: prisoners were reportedly beaten, forced to work naked, sew until their fingers bled, starved, and cut off from their family. Only after pleading multiple times did the Pussy Riot member have a prison transfer.

And here's what Putin had to say about Pussy Riot:

"I was not sorry that they ended up behind bars. I was sorry that they were engaged in such disgraceful behavior, which in my view was degrading to the dignity of women...They went beyond all boundaries."

It would be too soon to say that the move to release the activists is part of a larger decision on Putin's part to moderate his anti-free-speech views. Though we wonder, is it a coincidence that this also happened yesterday?

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden won’t be jaunting off to Russia for the Sochi Olympics in February, the White House announced Wednesday. In a brilliant jab at Russia’s anti-gay laws, a special delegation, led by former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, will be going in their place. The delegation will include openly gay former tennis champion Billie Jean King, and the openly gay two-time Olympian hockey player Caitlin Cahow...
Ahead of the games, Russia has been attracting criticism for enacting anti-gay policies, which ban so-called anti gay “propaganda” and make public displays of homosexual affection all but illegal. LGBT activists have put renewed pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make sure that the upcoming 2014 games in Sochi, Russia will be a safe place for gay athletes and allies.

Perhaps Putin is finally becoming concerned with his international image as a dictator.

Images: DuctTapeWrap/Tumblr, Ben Jennings/The Guardian