Pussy Riot and the Presidency of Russia

October 8, 2012

Pussy Riot, a three-member all-female punk rock band in Russia, recently performed a political protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. They now face up to seven years in jail

by Vikas Patnaik

The case has divided Russia for the last five months, ever since the women were put behind bars without bail [in March 2012]. There are those who feel the women have been treated too harshly and those who consider their act to be “blasphemous” to the Orthodox Church, which has seen a revival in Russian society since the collapse of the atheistic USSR. The EU has also grown concerned, particularly over the basis and method of pre-trial detention of the band members.


The women were charged with “hooliganism” for dancing in colourful balaclavas near the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and “singing to the Virgin Mary” to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin. In their own defense, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich stated that their performance was intended to be a protest at Patriarch Kirill’s open support for Putin in the build-up to the March Presidential election, and not to offend adherents of the Orthodox faith. They added that this was “not a trial over Pussy Riot but of the entire Russian political system”.

Mixed Messages from Political Leaders

Western pop icons such as Madonna and Yoko Ono have come out in support of the Pussy Riot cause. A St. Petersburg government official reacted strongly to this, calling it an “imposition of Western values” that should not be allowed. Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister, went on record tweeting that Madonna was in no position herself to engage in “moral lecturing”.

Interestingly, Vladimir Putin relayed a message of leniency towards the Pussy Riot members, on his recent visit to London for the Olympic Games [but has been more neutral in his comments since: Ed].

Leading Russia out of Resentment

It will be very interesting to see the outcome of this trial, the verdict of which is due 17th August. This may reflect on Putin’s leadership style, given his power and influence, but by virtue of doing so, it could expose what many in Russia are growing concerned over and Putin may be trying to conceal – the alleged links between government, law enforcement and the church. At the same time, Putin must dispel fears that the trial is part of a crackdown on dissent since his return to the Kremlin following the biggest anti-government protests in recent Russian history. Clearly a leadership dilemma of multiple dimensions.

While Putin’s style does not fit classic (mythological) charismatic leadership (Potts 2009), the recent pop hit “A Man Like Putin” notwithstanding, he has been given credit for much of the economic transformation of Russian society (McFaul and Stoner-Weiss 2010). This has not, however, qualified him as a transformational leader of the stature of Gorbachev, and (re)building trust is a priority for him. The complexity of the situation is thus likely to call for strategic – even ethical leadership as espoused by New Leadership theories (Rickards 2012) – rather than a transactional or situational one derived from the dominant rational model (Hersey and Blanchard 1988).

Putin may look to distance himself from the Orthodox Church and support the release of the Pussy Riot members, in an attempt to shake off the long-standing stigma of association between church and state going back to the days of the Tsars and Stalin. Whether moral or Machiavellian, it will attempt to address the best interests of Putin, Pussy Riot and, most importantly, the people of Russia.


Summary of story [accessed 11 August 2012].
Hersey, P., and Blanchard, K. (1988). Management of organizational behavior. 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
McFaul, M. and Stoner-Weiss, K. (2010). Elections and voters. In: White, S., ed. Developments in Russian politics 7. New York: Palgrave McMillan. 72. ISBN 9780230224490.
Potts, J. (2009). A history of charisma. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rickards, T. (2012). Dilemmas of leadership. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

The author

The author of the post, Vikas Patnaik, is Global Modeling & Analysis Leader at Ingersoll Rand. Apart from applying thermodynamics to the real world, Vik enjoys music, social commentary, philosophy and writing.

Update to follow

Vladimir Putin

October 8, 2012

Vladimir Putin