Not impressed with media coverage of Pussy Riot ... Vladimir Putin.

Not impressed with media coverage of Pussy Riot ... Vladimir Putin. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/AFP

MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin has accused the Western media of hypocrisy in its coverage of Pussy Riot, saying the women had crossed a red line. The pro-democracy protesters "violated the morals of the people" and after the Stalin-era purge of Orthodox priests it was the Russian state's duty to protect the sanctity of the church, the Russian president has said.

Three members of the feminist punk band were sentenced to two years in prison in August after performing an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. One was released this month.

It's an insult to women when a pregnant woman has group sex. 

"Maybe someone likes to have group sex in a museum. It's an insult to women when a pregnant woman has group sex. Does anybody like it?" the president said, referring to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the jailed women. In 2008, before Pussy Riot was formed, she took part in a group orgy at Moscow's natural history museum to protest against the Russian leadership as part of a guerilla art group called Voina.

Punished ... Pussy Riot members Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage before their latest  court hearing in Moscow.

Punished ... Pussy Riot members Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage before their latest court hearing in Moscow. Photo: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Speaking to the Valdai group of foreign and Russian academics and journalists, Mr Putin said the Western media was hypocritical in condemning the imprisonment of the three women when they were silent about the fact that the man who made the "Innocence of Muslims" video, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was also in jail.

Nakoula is the Egyptian-born US resident thought to be a writer, producer and promoter of the anti-Islamic video that was uploaded to YouTube and last month sparked riots in several countries. He is being held in the United States and faces up to three years in prison for alleged parole violations.

Mr Putin equated the Pussy Riot affair with the work of Russian neo-fascist groups that put posters in supermarkets and malls calling for the expulsion of Jews and foreign workers. Mr Putin said: "They too should be convicted of social unrest. Do you really want to support such behaviour? Then why don't you support the man who is in prison and who made that movie?"

Mr Putin was asked if the years of stability under his regime were in danger of turning into stagnation. In reply he listed the achievements of his first two terms of office, saying that average wages were six times greater than when he took over and that national debt was minimal.

Commenting on the protests that have shaken Russia since he announced his intention to return to the presidency, Mr Putin said: "We changed our election system as a result of the protests, introduced direct democratic elections of governors and will do the same with senators in the upper house."

Critics have said a recent decision to resume gubernatorial elections, a practice abolished by Mr Putin in 2004, is meaningless because of the existence of a so-called presidential "filter" for candidates.

"About the opposition, I don't know. I believe the response of those in power should be to involve more and more people," Mr Putin said. "The most important thing is not retaining power but making government more efficient. The work should be united and serious. If we can do that our citizens will appreciate that."

Guardian News & Media