BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 10: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, (L) and Maria Alekhina (R) of Pussy Riot, participate in a press conference of the Cinema For Peace foundation in Berlin on February 10, 2014. (Photo by Neslihan Dogan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Russian punk-rock collective Pussy Riot heads to the city of Chicago this fall. It's a long way from Moscow but much more attuned to the group's progressive message than Vladimir Putin.
Yes, that would be an understatement.
The Windy City also happens to be the adopted hometown of President Barack Obama, who has shown shades of Pussy Riot rebellion in his own contentious relationship with Russia's leader.
The feminist group, scheduled to appear alongside Jane's Addiction, Weezer and the Wu-Tang Clan at Chicago's Riot Fest in mid-September, became an overnight cause celebre in 2012 after two of its leaders -- Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina -- were sentenced to prison on charges of "hooliganism" for staging an anti-Putin protest in a Russian church.
Tolokonnikova and Alekhina will take part in a panel discussion at the music festival on the city's West Side.
The two have acted as global ambassadors to Pussy Riot since getting sprung from a Siberian jail in December. In February, they were introduced by Madonna at an Amnesty International concert in Brooklyn, appeared on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" and dropped by the offices of The New York Times, saying they'd go back to prison if they had to. (The same month, the duo was detained again in Russia for protesting the Sochi Olympic Games.)
Last month, they appeared on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" last month for an interview where star-struck host Maher questioned Putin's sexual orientation. "People think that that might be the case," said Alekhina, needling the prickly politician with deadpan candor. "So far we haven’t seen his active side of that, in that area.”
The cable channel recently aired the documentary, "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," which showed Tolokonnikova and Alekhina on trial amid outrage from Russian conservatives calling for Putin to make an example of the political activists. Meanwhile, the band went from obscurity to international media darling after Western supporters from Sir Paul McCartney and Sting to Patti Smith and the Material Mom, dubbed a self-righteous "slut" by Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin. (While Rogozin would elsewhere be forced to resign following such remarks, he remains in office alongside Putin.)
Condemning 2012's guilty verdict, an Obama spokesperson said the U.S. was "disappointed" and seriously concerned "about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system."
Two years later, diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia is reaching Cold-War levels of iciness. Through the threat of economic sanctions, the Obama Administration has sought to transform the country into a "pariah state" amid a stand-off over eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Putin has yet to yank thousands of troops off the border of the former Soviet state, and faces allegations that he intends to interrupt Ukraine's pivotal presidential election, slated for May 25.
According to Vox Media's Max Fisher, Obama's strategy sees Putin "hanging himself by his own rope."
"The lesson that Putin is learning is that Russia depends on the global economy, whether it likes it or not, and the global economy doesn't like it when you go invading other countries and tempting the richest nations in the world to maybe consider sanctioning you," Fisher writes. "This is actually a significant change for Russia, which at the height of its Soviet power was not integrated into the global economy and so didn't have to worry about things like investor sentiment."
While Putin stands accused of irrational attempts to restore Russia's greatness as a "19th-century empire," Pussy Riot's rabblerousers are being hailed as heroes risking their lives to take on a crusty Old World regime.
Stepping foot on Chicago soil -- where Obama launched his career as a charismatic leader, and future Putin foe -- is another way of sticking it to the Kremlin.