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Pro-Kremlin Pop Mogul Denies Praising Crimea Annexation

Iosif Prigozhin

Iosif Prigozhin

husband and producer of Russian pop star Valeria

“It was a lie when they said that we signed a letter about the annexation of Crimea! There never was such a letter. There has never been anything with Valeria’s or Iosif Prigozhin’s signatures concerning the annexation of Crimea…. We were asked about the referendum in Crimea."

... devil's in the details

Valeria, one of Russia’s most popular singers, and Prigozhin were among more than 500 of the country’s prominent cultural figures who signed a controversial open letter published March 11, 2014, by Russia's Culture Ministry expressing "firm" support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s "position on Ukraine and Crimea." The document appeared shortly after Russia deployed troops to Crimea and five days before a referendum there on joining Russia that was denounced as illegal by Ukraine and the West and declared invalid by 100 members of the United Nations.

Prigozhin is correct that there is no mention of the word "annexation" in the letter, but there is no mention of the word "referendum" either. The central statement of support reads: “We firmly declare our support of the position of the President of the Russian Federation concerning Ukraine and Crimea.” At the time the letter was published, a pro-Moscow politician had already been installed as Crimea’s de facto prime minister and Putin had asked for and received parliamentary authorization to send troops into Ukraine, days after the notorious “little green men” – unidentified, pro-Russian gunmen -- had seized key government buildings on the peninsula. Putin initially denied sending troops to Crimea but later acknowledged they had been deployed in an operation “to return Crimea to Russia” following the ouster in February 2014 of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

While there is no available transcript or recording of the couple’s conversations about the text of open letter, theater director Eduard Boyakov offered some insight about the signature-gathering process. He said he agreed to sign it after a deputy Culture Ministry official called him, asked him if he was “ready to sign a letter about Crimea in support of the president,” and read him the text of the letter.

Prigozhin and Valeria, whose real name is Alla Perfilova and who has likened herself to Madonna, have been vocal in their support of bringing Crimea into Moscow’s domain. Following the referendum, Prigozhin posted a congratulatory message on Instagram saying voters had chosen “reunification with Russia," while Valeria sang at a celebratory concert on Red Square, telling the crowd: “I congratulate all of us on the historic, grandiose event. Russia and Crimea: We are together!”

Prigozhin, Valeria, and other Russian singers who supported the Kremlin’s actions in Crimea have been prevented from performing in Latvia after they were blacklisted by the Baltic government in 2014.