Russia’s defining 20th-century pop star, Alla Pugacheva, declared her opposition to the invasion of Ukraine on Sunday, emerging as the most significant celebrity to come out against the war as President Vladimir V. Putin faces growing challenges on and off the battlefield.
Ms. Pugacheva, who is 73, wrote in a post on Instagram, where she has 3.4 million followers, that Russians were dying in Ukraine for “illusory goals.” The war, she wrote, was “turning our country into a pariah and worsening the lives of our citizens.”
The pop star left Russia for Israel after the war began in February and recently returned to Moscow, according to Russian news reports. Her husband, the television showman and comedian Maksim Galkin, has been vocal in his opposition to the war; but Ms. Pugacheva, while voicing support for her husband, had not directly commented on the war before her post on Sunday.
There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin. A spokesman for Mr. Putin spoke positively of Ms. Pugacheva this month, noting that she and the Russian president “know each other and have met more than once.”
Scores of major Russian cultural figures have already criticized the war, but Ms. Pugacheva is uniquely popular among a broad cross-section of Russians, with fame stretching back to the Soviet era. Ms. Pugacheva has been a superstar since the 1970s, and The New York Times in 2000 described her as “the goddess of Russian pop, Moscow’s Tina Turner with a hint of Edith Piaf, whose songs have given voice to the yearnings of millions.” She has reportedly sold over 250 million records, which would rank her among the world’s best-selling musical artists.
In the Putin years, she has remained a staple on state television; state-run Channel 1 offered wall-to-wall coverage of her 70th birthday in 2019, calling her the “prima donna of the national stage.” Mr. Putin awarded her an Order for Merit to the Fatherland in 2014.
It was the Kremlin’s crackdown on Mr. Galkin, 46, her fifth husband, that apparently precipitated Ms. Pugacheva’s decision to come out publicly against the war. The Russian Justice Ministry on Friday declared Mr. Galkin a “foreign agent,” a legal designation that the Kremlin has increasingly been using against its opponents.
Ms. Pugacheva addressed the Justice Ministry directly in her post on Sunday, declaring that she now wanted to be made a “foreign agent” herself.
“I request to be added to the ranks of foreign agents of my beloved country,” she wrote. “I am in solidarity with my husband, an honest, respectable and genuine person who is a true and incorruptible patriot of Russia, who wishes his Motherland prosperity, peaceful life, freedom of speech and the end of the death of our guys for illusory goals that are turning our country into a pariah and worsening the lives of our citizens.”
In a sign of Ms. Pugacheva’s political significance, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, this month described the pop star as still being on the Kremlin’s side. While Mr. Galkin had made “very bad statements,” Ms. Pugacheva had not made any comments the Kremlin considered unacceptable, Mr. Peskov said.
On Sunday, a senior lawmaker, Pyotr Tolstoy, wrote on the Telegram social messaging platform that he was sorry that Ms. Pugacheva had “lost touch with reality.”
“She will no longer find support among decent Russian people,” Mr. Tolstoy wrote. “We will win without her songs.”
Mr. Putin is facing growing criticism inside Russia from across the political spectrum after Ukraine routed Russian forces in northeastern Ukraine earlier this month, forcing an embarrassing retreat. Hawkish supporters of the war have questioned the Kremlin’s handling of the conflict on national television, insisting that Russia should be fighting more aggressively; antiwar critics have been emboldened by Mr. Putin’s setbacks to call publicly for his resignation.
And at a regional summit in Uzbekistan on Thursday and Friday, Mr. Putin acknowledged in meetings with the leaders of China and India that both countries have “concerns” about the war. The implicit criticism of Mr. Putin from the world’s two most populous countries underscored that he now faces perhaps his most challenging moment of recent months.