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Russia's Medvedev plays 'good cop' on Pussy Riot

Russia's Dmitri Medvedev called for the release of three Pussy Riot members sentenced to two years in prison. Is he trying to distance himself from the decreasingly popular president?

By Correspondent / September 13, 2012

Members of the female punk band 'Pussy Riot' (R-L) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass-walled cage during a court hearing in Moscow, in this August 17 file photo.

Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS/File

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Moscow

Dmitri Medvedev, Russia's prime minister and former president, has departed from the official script – as he sometimes dramatically does – to call for the release of three Pussy Riot women who were sentenced last month to two years in a penal colony for committing sacrilege in Moscow's premier Orthodox cathedral.

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Correspondent

Fred Weir has been the Monitor's Moscow correspondent, covering Russia and the former Soviet Union, since 1998. 

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The women have been in prison since March, and their appeal hearing is set to begin in two weeks. Mr. Medvedev called for the women to be given suspended sentences.

"Imprisonment is a very severe, even frightening responsibility," Medvedev told a meeting of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, of which he is nominal leader.

"This well-known group of girls have been in prison quite a long time already, and that is a very serious punishment for everything they did, regardless of the sentence…. Prolonging their prison confinement seems unproductive in this case," he added.

Medvedev's comments came just a few days after President Vladimir Putin compared Pussy Riot performances with "witches' sabbaths" and mused over how obscene their name sounds in English in an interview with the Kremlin-run RT network. Otherwise, Mr. Putin insisted he had nothing to do with the case.

On Tuesday Russian state TV aired a "documentary" film entitled "Provocateurs. Part 2" which claimed the brief "punk prayer" performed by Pussy Riot in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior last February was part of an international conspiracy financed by renegade Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who currently lives in London.

Some experts say Medvedev, who has not shone in his new role as prime minister, may be trying to refurbish his liberal credentials amid Russia's fast polarizing political landscape in hopes that he may have a political future if Putin should be forced to leave the Kremlin early.

"Medvedev can't change anything for Pussy Riot, but he's taking care to position himself as a liberal," says Alexei Mukhin, director of the independent Center for Political Information in Moscow.

"After all, he's a former president, head of the United Russia party, and if Putin were to go away he could step up. He's taking care with his biography, to show that he can take a stand."

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