"You cannot play nice with Putin" Pussy Riot's founder speaks out over war

‘You cannot play nice with Putin’: Pussy Riot’s founder Nadya Tolokonnikova speaks out over war on Ukraine

Putin

Pussy Riot founder Nadya Tolokonnikova believes the world cannot lose sight of the most critical ways to support Ukraine right now.

The self declared anarchist, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 for singing Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Drive Putin Away at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, gave an exclusive interview with The Guardian, speaking about the current invasion, and how the world must rally against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin just signed a law that said you’re going to get 15 years in jail for even discussing the war in Ukraine. You cannot even call it a war, you have to call it a special military operation,” she said. 

Tolokonnikova’s immediate response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was to gather a few of her friends in cryptocurrency and launch Ukraine DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation), a 1/1 NFT of the Ukrainian flag, where proceeds go directly to helping those suffering in Ukraine.

According to the blockchain tracker Elliptic, Ukraine has received $57 million in cryptocurrency donations to help with its defence against Russia. 

“We felt, me and my friends in crypto, that we had to react somehow,” Tolokonnikova told Zoe Williams. “I’m personally convinced that in situations like this, activism is the only thing that can keep you sane.”

“I feel like the NFT world is a great way to redistribute money, but we see these old patterns being repeated. Misogyny doesn’t go anywhere, it just migrates over to digital artwork. Women account for only five per cent of all NFT sales. It’s so much more difficult to prove there is value in your words if you happen to be a woman.”

“Just looking at disasters and tragedies and not doing anything about it is really detrimental for the world, but also it slowly destroys you and makes you feel helpless.” 

Tolokonnikova, who was declared a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin last December, was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, along with two of her colleagues.

When she was released from jail, she founded Mediazone, an independent news outlet based in Russia.

Last week, Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media demanded Mediazone be shut down, after it reported on the country’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“I’m in a panic, I’m crying every day. I don’t think it was in any sense necessary, I don’t think it was in any sense logical. It wasn’t something that had to happen, it’s a disaster that will end thousands of people’s lives. I’m freaking out,” she said.

“The global community was extremely complacent, and I see two reasons: hypocrisy, based on greed.”

“People would make statements that they did not support Putin’s politics, and his oppression of the political opposition, and the wars that he started – this isn’t the first war by any means. But at the same time they would continue doing business with him.”

“People underestimate how dangerous dictators are. In 2014, we spoke to the UK parliament, we spoke at the Senate in the US, we were asked by a lot of people how they should talk to Putin, how they should frame the conversation, and I always advised that they should be as strict as they could. You cannot play nice with Putin.”

“Dictators act a lot like prison wardens. They treat kindness as weakness.”

The campaigner and political prisoner told Williams that she believes in some ways, Ukraine is winning.

“Starting that, I was pretty much ready to die. If you fight with a dictator, you have to show them that you are ready to fight to the end. I think this is why Ukraine is actually winning: they might lose some cities but they’re willing to fight to the end, and that is not the case for the Russian army.”

Her time in prison however, has left a big mark.

“I was traumatised by prison,” she said. “I was barely functional when I got released. I suffered from a really severe depression in 2014. I’m still on medication for depression caused by PTSD.”

Finally, she expressed her hope for a new Russian leader, and named opposition leader Alexei Navalny as her pick.

“Better social programmes, and redistribution, that’s all part of his programme. I’ve known [Navalny] since 2007 – it has been really interesting to witness his platform become more and more social democratic, even though he doesn’t describe himself as that.”

“He doesn’t use labels. I think it’s smart. He doesn’t want to divide people.” 

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