Warning to Putin critics as rockers Bi-2 face deportation from Thailand

Members of a self-exiled Russian rock group known for opposing Moscow’s war in Ukraine face possible deportation home after being arrested in Thailand for breaking immigration rules.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Saturday accused them of sponsoring terrorism by publicly supporting Ukraine, raising concerns they may face criminal charges in Russia. The Russian consul in Phuket said that they will be sent to Bangkok for deportation based on their citizenship.

With four members of the Bi-2 band holding Israeli passports – including one who is also an Australian citizen – the issue has become a diplomatic headache for Thai authorities and is likely to alarm Kremlin opponents who fled abroad.

Russian artists critical of the government have encountered increasing difficulties in performing overseas, with opponents of President Vladimir Putin alleging a campaign to intimidate and silence them.

Since his invasion of Ukraine, Putin has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, jailing or driving his critics into exile. An estimated 1 million Russians left the country in 2022 and 2023, including some prominent anti-war cultural figures, in the largest brain drain since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Five of the seven Bi-2 members who were detained on January 24 on the Thai resort island of Phuket for holding two concerts without a work visa are Russian citizens. Their defence team said they are expected to arrive in the Thai capital on Monday and fear they have been targeted for their anti-war stance.

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Maxim Alexandrovich Galkin is a Russian-Israeli comedian, television presenter and singer. He left Russia in March 2022, after the invasion of Ukraine. Photo: Instagram/maxgalkinru

Maxim Galkin, a comedian now based in Israel, said he was barred from entering the Indonesian island of Bali for a planned show on Saturday despite having received a work visa two days before.

Galkin, whose shows in Thailand were recently cancelled by owners of the venues, said on Instagram that passport officers in Bali showed him a letter from the Russian government requesting Indonesia keep him out of the country.

Galkin was fined 100,000 dirhams (US$27,225) by the United Arab Emirates over a performance in Dubai in which he proclaimed support for Ukraine, according to the Mash Telegram channel. Russian rap musician Alisher Morgenshtern has said on social media that the Arab country has imposed an entry ban on him.

Moscow has declared the lead singer of Bi-2, Galkin and Morgenshtern as “foreign agents”.

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The Thai foreign ministry did not respond to an emailed request for comment. When asked about the case, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said Israel “is trying to help” its citizens under arrest in Phuket. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular help to an Australian citizen detained in Thailand.

The challenges faced by Bi-2 are the result of concerted action by Russia and send a worrying signal, according to Dmitry Gudkov, a Kremlin opponent and former lawmaker who has taken refuge in Cyprus.

“The authorities want to frighten everyone living abroad to show that they can go after anyone, anywhere,” he said.

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