Not her war to fight

Past comments appear to have sealed the fate of the influencer whose risqué Moscow party drew official disapproval

Not her war to fight

Russian blogger Anastasia Ivleyeva at the Prada fashion show in Milan, 21 September 2023. Photo: Claudio Lavenia / Getty Images

The “Almost Naked” party held by Russian blogger Anastasia Ivleyeva in December continues to make headlines in Russia even a month on, with Russian President Vladimir Putin favourably comparing the “life priorities” of Russian soldiers to those of celebrities “jumping around without pants at some event” last week.

Since then, Ivleyeva, the organiser of the star-studded but ill-fated event, along with her fellow party-goers, has been hit with two lawsuits seeking a total of 1 billion rubles (€10.4 million) in damages.

Before the scandal took Russia by storm, Ivleyeva had largely managed to avoid the world of politics. But with the war in Ukraine dragging on and the LGBT movement declared “extremist” and effectively banned, it has become almost impossible to lead an apolitical public life in Russia in 2024.

Ivleyeva’s New Year party marked a sudden change in the rules of the game for Russian media personalities. The “Almost Naked” shindig, which seemed like a fairly ordinary event for Russian celebrities, drew the authorities’ ire due to its minimalist clothing aesthetic — one unfortunate rapper was subsequently found guilty of hooliganism and jailed for 15 days for attending the event cloaked in a single sock — forcing the stars to record a slew of public apologies. Indeed, the owner of the venue that hosted the event felt suitably contrite to donate fragments of a relic of St. Nicholas to a Moscow church in an attempt to gain an indulgence.

‘I’m so far removed from all that’

Ivleyeva, whose Instagram account now has over 18 million subscribers, first became known to a broad audience in 2017 when she hosted the TV travel show Heads and Tails. She subsequently built a significant following during the pandemic by doing Instagram lives with famous guests.

Ivleyeva has always freely admitted that she doesn’t follow current affairs closely and doesn’t read the news. In December 2019, however, she did participate in a live TV phone-in event with then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, asking him whether the Russian authorities intended to shut down YouTube. Medvedev was quick to reassure Ivleyeva that there were no such plans.

Ivleyeva asks Dmitry Medvedev a question during a live TV event, December 2019 / video screenshot

Ivleyeva asks Dmitry Medvedev a question during a live TV event, December 2019 / video screenshot 

In a subsequent interview with TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak, Ivleyeva called her participation in the show a “cringeworthy” moment, adding that she didn’t know it would be broadcast live.

“I’m so far removed from all that,” Ivleyeva said at the time.

Shortly afterwards, Ivleyeva was asked what she thought of the investigation by the now jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny into the corruption of Medvedev and his associates. She answered: “I don’t think anything. I don’t have anything to say on the topic.”

In early December 2019, Navalny released another documentary claiming that Medvedev’s wife regularly used a private Bombardier Global Express 5000 aircraft worth about $50 million (€45.6 million). Ivleyeva says she received angry comments for not having asked the prime minister about the plane.

“It’s not my war to fight. … Would it be fair if my career was completely finished if I’d asked?”

she asked, responding to a question by Sobchak.

However, Ivleyeva hasn’t always shied away from politics. When Navalny was poisoned in August 2020, she posted her wishes to him for a speedy recovery. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, she wrote a post — including rather inappropriate images of hugging emojis in the colours of the Russian and Ukrainian flags — saying “NO TO WAR!!!”

Anti-war post / Instagram

Anti-war post / Instagram

Days later she posted that the invasion was a “real catastrophe” and urged both sides to “reach a compromise that will stop this loss of life”. Notably, she also used a common “we don’t know what’s really happening” trope, popular among pro-government Russians, pointing out that there was “an information war” on, and that “ordinary people like us are unable to know the truth”.

Despite her call for peace, Ivleyeva’s career seemed to flourish unhindered, and it was only much later that she suddenly found her career hanging in the balance.

One hell of a party

Despite Russia declaring Instagram “extremist” and blocking it in March 2022, it still remains the main platform for many Russian bloggers and celebrities, including Ivleyeva, who posted the initial photos from the infamous “Almost Naked” party on the platform.

The risqué party was attended by more than 200 people, with VIP tickets reportedly changing hands for 1 million rubles (€10,250). Celebrity guests included blogger Ksenia Sobchak and singers Filipp Kirkorov and Dima Bilan.

Ivleyeva at her now infamous “Almost Naked” party in Moscow, 20 December. Photo: Irina Buzhor / Kommersant / Sipa USA / Vida Press

Ivleyeva at her now infamous “Almost Naked” party in Moscow, 20 December. Photo: Irina Buzhor / Kommersant / Sipa USA / Vida Press

As photos and videos of the extravagantly dressed guests began to appear on social media, self-identifying Russian “patriots” and others close to the state quickly worked themselves up into a pearl-clutching state of consternation. Footage spread on the Internet of rapper Vacio, who came to the party wearing nothing but a Balenciaga sock on his penis. He was promptly arrested for 15 days on petty hooliganism charges, and he saw in the New Year in a special detention centre. He was then immediately re-arrested, and sentenced to a further 10 days in custody, again for petty hooliganism. But his punishment didn’t end there — last week, Vacio received a military summons.

A Moscow court deemed Ivleyeva’s party to have promoted “non-traditional sexual relations”, without specifying precisely how. Within days, partygoers began issuing public apologies for attending the event. One of the first to do so was Ivleyeva herself, promising to donate the proceeds from ticket sales to charitable causes, although she didn’t indicate which ones.

She then recorded two more apology videos lasting about 20 minutes in total, with other celebrity party-goers following suit and issuing public mea culpas shortly thereafter.

Screenshots of apology videos by Dima Bilan, Anastasia Ivleyeva and Filipp Kirkorov following the “Almost Naked” party.

Screenshots of apology videos by Dima Bilan, Anastasia Ivleyeva and Filipp Kirkorov following the “Almost Naked” party. 

Does Russia know how to forgive?

The overblown reaction to the “Almost Naked” party could mean that the event has become a personal matter for the Kremlin: sources told Bloomberg that Putin himself was shown photos of the event and had expressed distaste for such decadence during wartime.

The reason for that reaction could be that Putin feels “let down” by the elite, who were supposed to boost his public image during the election, not “walk around in their underwear,” Russian-Ukrainian journalist Matvey Ganapolsky said during a YouTube live stream in December.

“The dictatorship is extending its reach. It gets its claws in everywhere, and everyone is in a panic,”

Ganapolsky pointed out.

Ivleyeva was fined 100,000 rubles (€1,025) on 29 December for organising the naked party, but the public prosecution campaign didn’t end there, with courts starting to consider two new lawsuits against Ivleyeva and other party attendees, including rapper Vacio and singer Dima Bilan, seeking 1 billion rubles (over €10 million) in damages last week. One of the plaintiffs claimed that the party had caused her to feel “hopelessness, doom, and fear for the future of our children, grandchildren and Russia”, despite not attending the event herself.

Ivleyeva is also now being audited for tax evasion, with independent Russian news outlet The Bell reporting she could even be facing criminal charges.

Rumours swirled in the media that Ivleyeva intended to leave the country, but she denied those reports in a video in which she said she was in St. Petersburg and advised people “to spend less time online”.

“They say Russia knows how to forgive. If that is true, I would very much like to ask you, the people, for a second chance. If not, there’s always public execution,” a teary-eyed Ivleyeva said in her second apology video.

For now, Ivleyeva’s future looks uncertain. She has mostly remained silent on social media since her slew of apologies, only breaking her silence to express politically astute condolences to the victims of recent deadly Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod and Donetsk, her version of donating St. Nicholas’s relics in the hope of earning the public’s eventual forgiveness.

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