‘Almost Naked’ Party in Moscow Angers Russian Conservatives

Tearful apologies, revoked sponsorships, canceled performances and two weeks in jail for wearing a sock on the genitals.

A widening crackdown on the participants in an erotic celebrity party in Moscow underscores an accelerating conservative shift in a country where hedonism has long been tolerated in return for the acceptance of shrinking political freedoms.

The scandal broke last week when a Russian TV presenter and blogger, Anastasia Ivleyeva, hosted some of the country’s show business personalities at a private party in the popular club Mutabor. Ms. Ivleyeva, who has 18 million Instagram followers, said the event was the premiere of her photography project, originally commissioned by the local branch of Playboy magazine.

She said the dress code was “almost naked,” and that guests were given the freedom to interpret that as they saw fit.

The suggestive photos and videos that surfaced on social media soon after were unremarkable. Yet the blowback was immediate and severe.

“The country is at war, and these scum, beasts, are putting on this,” one of the country’s most prominent propagandists, Vladimir Solovyov, wrote on his Telegram channel hours after the event. “Cattle who don’t give a damn about what’s happening.”

Some prominent conservatives went further, claiming, without offering evidence, that the party was a satanic ritual because it occurred, according to their calculations, on the 666th day of the war in Ukraine.

“Stop trampling on our hearts with your hoofs,” Vadim Tsyganov, a music producer, said in a video, where he appeared with his wife, Viktoria Tsyganova, a prominent Russian pop singer known for her religious and ultranationalist activism.

As the conservative outrage piled up, police raided Mutabor on Dec. 21. Soon after the party, some celebrity participants said they had lost sponsorships, had performances canceled and even had been edited out of prerecorded festive television programs.

Anastasia Ivleyeva, a Russian blogger and the organizer of an “almost naked” party at Moscow’s Mutabor nightclub, in a still image from a public apology video published Wednesday.Credit…Nastya Ivleeva Telegram Channel/via Reuters

A prominent Russian conservative activist, Ekaterina Mizulina, claimed that the country’s tax authorities had opened an audit of Ms. Ivleyeva, and local news media reported that another group of activists had sued her for millions of dollars. Through a spokesperson, Ms. Ivleyeva declined to comment.

The biggest punishment thus far has befallen a 25-year-old rapper, Nikolai Vasilyev, who performs as Vacío. He was sentenced to 15 days in jail under the country’s new anti-gay law for having attended the party wearing only a sock on his genitals.

Aleksandr Baunov, a Russian politics expert at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, said the crackdown underlines the contradictions in President Vladimir V. Putin’s wartime vision of the country.

Mr. Putin has attempted to mobilize Russian society for what he presents as an existential and prolonged conflict against the West in Ukraine. But he has also tried to maintain a sense of normalcy, particularly in the wealthier cities, and he has allowed Russian elites to largely carry on with their lives as long as they don’t question the war.

“This party has exposed these double standards,” Mr. Baunov said. “It gave the impression that there’s one set of rules for the common citizens, and another for the elites.”

The ensuing scandal handed a clear victory to the country’s ultraconservatives, who have long called for Russians to be more involved with the war effort. The coordinated nature of the crackdown points to Mr. Putin’s direct approval, Mr. Baunov said, and reflects the growing influence of ultraconservatives with the president.

Since invading Ukraine, Mr. Putin has also amplified his appeals to what he calls “traditional values,” as he has sought to sell the world on an alternative ideological vision from the West. The invasion has been accompanied by a crackdown on gay rights and growing calls for restrictions on abortions, although Mr. Putin has publicly rejected limits on women’s reproductive rights.

At least six attendees of the party have since issued public apologies, ranging from teary pleas for forgiveness to unlikely excuses.

“In the life of every person comes a moment when he walks through a wrong door,” said one of Russia’s most prominent pop singers, Philipp Kirkorov, who attended the party in a glittery see-through jumpsuit and underpants.

After initially defending her event, Ms. Ivleyeva, 32, has made two public apologies in videos posted on social media.

“They say that Russia can forgive,” she said in her second video, which was 21 minutes. “If this is true, I would very much like to ask for a second chance from you, from the Russian people.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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