An ‘almost naked’ party spurs backlash in wartime Russia

January 2, 2024
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A party at a top Moscow nightclub has turned into something not very nice: public humiliation and the threat of arrest.

An “almost naked” party at Mutabor, a popular Moscow nightclub, days before Christmas attracted top Russian celebrities, influencers and socialites, some of whom showed up in revealing clothes or underwear. One rapper showed up in only a pair of shoes and a sock on his private parts.

The revelries did not go down well with members of the country’s so-called patriotic community, with photographs and video from the Dec. 20 event sparking indignation from fervent supporters of the invasion of Ukraine. The fierce backlash against the party, which has dominated Russian headlines and social space for a week, reveals how much power the pro-war community has garnered since the Ukraine invasion began in February 2022.

Pro-war lawmakers, propagandists and military bloggers have accused those who attended the party at the nightclub and its organizers of moral corruption while soldiers are dying on the front lines.

“There is a war going on in the country, but these creatures, scum, are organizing all this,” state TV host and top Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “How morally deaf do you have to be?”

The Kremlin has used the war in Ukraine to drive its push for conservative “family values,” while shunning the Western ideals of freedom of expression and choice. Russian hawks have picked up on the government’s conservative shift.

“Holding such events at a time when our guys are dying … and many children are losing their fathers is cynical,” Russian pro-war conservative activist Yekaterina Mizulina said on Telegram as she called for the boycott of those who attended the party. “Our soldiers on the frontlines are definitely not fighting for this.”

A video was posted on pro-war Telegram channels purporting to show Russian soldiers on the frontlines also criticizing the party. NBC News could not verify if the men in the footage are indeed Russian soldiers in Ukraine, or when the video was shot.

The fallout from the party has led to a string of apologies by celebrities who attended, including journalist and socialite Ksenia Sobchak, who ran against President Vladimir Putin in the 2018 election.

There have already been calls from some hawks to punish attendees.

“They all just need to be canceled: titles, awards, concerts, broadcasts and advertising contracts,” Sergey Mironov, the leader of pro-Putin political party “A Just Russia,” said Wednesday on Telegram. “Serves them right!”

The organizer of the event, one of Russia’s top influencers, Anastasia Ivleeva, has borne the brunt of the criticism and could  face prosecution. She called for peace in the early days of the war, but chose to remain in Russia and has stayed silent since those initial comments.

Anastasia Ivleeva.
Anastasia Ivleeva.via Reuters

On Wednesday, Ivleeva, 32, posted a tearful 20-minute apology to her 18 million Instagram followers, saying she regretted the party and asking people for a “second chance.”

Mizulina said that Russian federal tax authorities have opened an investigation into Ivleeva that she said “has every chance” of leading to a criminal case. State media reported Wednesday that Ivleeva is also being sued for 1 billion rubles ($11 million) by 22 unnamed entities for “moral damage” caused by her party, with any award money to be donated to a war fund.

NBC News could not independently confirm whether a lawsuit had been filed.

Mizulina thanked Russian authorities for their “prompt response” to Ivleeva’s party. “The homefront is in good hands,” she added. 

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ardent war supporter and Putin’s loyal ally, called the party “satanic” and demanded that attendees who are posting apologies prove their “sincerity” by taking part in a military training course in Chechnya.

Meanwhile, Vacio, the rapper who showed up at the party in a sock, was arrested and sentenced to 15 days by a Moscow court, the state news agency Tass reported Wednesday. The court said he was sentenced for taking part in a party that promoted “non-traditional sexual relationships.” Russia outlawed the LGBTQ movement as extremist last month.

Guests attend an "almost-naked" party
Guests attend an “almost-naked” party in Moscow on Dec. 21.via Reuters

The Russian state news agency Ria posted a video of the rapper apologizing for offending people’s feelings with his look at “such a difficult time” for the country.

Maria Butina, a pro-Kremlin Russian lawmaker who was released from U.S. custody in 2019 after serving time for illegally infiltrating U.S. conservative political circles, said she had initiated checks into whether the Mutabor party was in compliance with the “LGBTQ propaganda” law.

Officially, the Kremlin has stayed out of the controversy, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov declining to comment.

“Let’s remain the only ones in the country who are not discussing this topic,” he said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

CORRECTION (Jan. 2, 2024, 10:10 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Yekaterina Mizulina’s job status. She is an activist, not a lawmaker.



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