Europe

Russian ballerina says Kremlin banned her TV shows

Anastasia Volochkova
Image caption The dancer accused Russia's leading party of using her

A famous Russian ballerina has accused the Kremlin of pulling the plug on two TV shows about her life after she criticised the state's ruling party.

Anastasia Volochkova said United Russia's bosses duped her into signing a letter condemning imprisoned tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

One of the party's top officials dismissed the ballerina's words, citing her "wild imagination".

She has now said she will withdraw her membership of the party.

"When I joined the party, I never thought I would have this feeling: it's like I was a member of a gang and if I take a step back, there will be revenge," she told the AFP news agency.

The ballerina-turned-celebrity said that the decision to cancel the popular talk-shows on state-owned Channel One was probably down to her public spat with United Russia and had reached a "very high political level".

"I never thought that people on such a level would start taking revenge on me; it's a battle of unequal forces," she said.

"I'm just a ballerina."

Ms Volochkova, who used to enjoy the spotlight as a former Bolshoi Theatre prima ballerina, joined Russia's ruling party in 2003 along with a host of cinema, sports and showbusiness celebrities.

'Wild imagination'

She announced her decision to quit United Russia in an expletive-rich radio interview earlier this month.

Talking to Radio Liberty, the star said she had decided to withdraw her membership because the party forced her to sign a letter supporting Mr Khodorkovsky's first jail sentence.

But the letter was published more than five years ago and until recently, the ballerina had stayed silent.

Mr Khodorkovsky, at one time Russia's richest businessman, was jailed in October 2003 on charges of tax evasion, fraud and embezzlement. In December 2010 he was charged with embezzlement and money laundering and sentenced to stay behind bars until 2017.

Moscow-based daily Kommersant cited the reaction of one of United Russia's top officials, Alexey Chesnakov, who reportedly dismissed Ms Volochkova's comments, blaming "the wild imagination of this woman".

But the ballerina said that "she was fooled".

"The party used me, that's all.

"In reality, I respect Mr Khodorkovsky very much," she told Radio Liberty.

Throughout her career, the performer has been involved in several high-profile arguments.

In 2003, the Bolshoi did not extend her contract, citing her excessive weight.

She eventually won a lawsuit against the ballet theatre, but decided to launch a solo career.

In 2009, she unsuccessfully ran in the mayoral election in Sochi, which will host 2014 Olympics.

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