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Putin on Pussy Riot: 'I don't think modern Germany should support anti-Semitism'

When a Moscow court jailed three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot in August for staging a protest against Vladimir Putin, the charge was "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

And according to Russia's president, that hatred extends beyond Christianity. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised human rights concerns about the case during a meeting in Moscow on Friday, Putin issued a fiery response, putting Merkel in an exceedingly awkward position by accusing the Putty Riot members of being anti-Semites. Per AFP:

"So the chancellor mentioned the girls who are in prison for performing in a church. But does she know that before one of them hung up an effigy of a Jew and said that we need to get rid of such people in Moscow?" Putin asked.

"You and I cannot support people who have anti-Semitic views," he told Merkel, who sat next to him in a chair looking uneasy.

Later, at a news conference, Putin added, "I think one should understand what sort of people we are dealing with. I don't think modern Germany should support anti-Semitism."

What's Putin talking about? Apparently he wasn't well-briefed (or deliberately mischaracterized the facts). AFP notes that Pussy Riot's Yekaterina Samutsevich did participate in a 2008 political art performance at a Moscow supermarket that included "stylized lynchings" of migrants workers and gay men (one of them Jewish). But the point of the demonstration was to "highlight discrimination" against those groups (You can see footage of the protest here.) The Telegraph says another Pussy Riot member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, also took part in the mock hanging.

Putin's sharp rebuttal is in keeping with a strategy he's used before to defend the Pussy Riot sentence: Compare the case to a sensitive religious issue in the country of the critic. When the Russian leader was asked about the case during a dinner with foreign journalists and academics in Moscow in October, he responded by wondering why Westerners aren't supporting the jailed American behind the "Innocence of Muslims" film that touched off violent protests in the Arab world.

"We have red lines beyond which starts the destruction of the moral foundations of our society," Putin explained. "If people cross this line they should be made responsible in line with the law." The protest that landed Pussy Riot members in labor camps, he added, was "an act of group sex aimed at hurting religious feelings."

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images

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