A satirist who attracted the Kremlin’s ire for depicting Vladimir Putin as a malevolent dwarf in the Russian equivalent of “Spitting Image” has fled the country after what he said was harassment by authorities.
Viktor Shenderovich is best known as the writer of “Kukly” – or “Puppets” – which built a mass audience in the 1990s for its depiction of politicians, but was pulled from the air in 2000, shortly after Mr Putin came to power.
The cancellation of the show foreshadowed Moscow’s increasingly heavy handed crackdown on dissent.
Mr Shenderovich, 63, now the host of a popular radio show, said authorities had in the past two decades launched a campaign against him including “home invasion, surveillance, telephone hooliganism, slander, invasion of privacy and direct threats to life”.
Satirist Viktor Shenderovich
Credit: Valery Sharifulin/TASS
This concluded in a recent defamation case brought against him by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a powerful Kremlin ally Washington has hit with sanctions, over remarks he made on his show.
“We’re talking about the prospect of imprisonment,” the satirist said on Tuesday as he announced that he had left the country.
“They’ve been trying to push me out of Russia for twenty years,” Mr Shenderovich told the independent Dozhd TV channel.
He said he was advised by his lawyers to leave Russia for an undisclosed location.
“They’re simply trying to turn my life into hell,” he said.
Mr Shenderovich was designated a "foreign agent" last month, a label which has been slapped on independent media, activists and other individuals who have fallen foul of the Kremlin.
The life-sized 'Spitting Image' style puppet of Russian president Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin, who stands at five feet and seven inches tall, reportedly took issue with “Kukly” likening him to Little Zaches, a dwarf from a tale by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffman.
Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet leader, expressed affection for the show despite it depicting him as a fumbling alcoholic.