Pressure against a raft of Russian celebrities who attended an “Almost Naked” party at a Moscow nightclub continues to mount, with participants in the soiree issuing public apologies and at least one ordered jailed.
Much of the official backlash has focused on the supposed lack of decorum of the December 21 event amid Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. Meanwhile, the pressure campaign was escalated on orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, multiple Russian government sources were cited as saying in a December 29 report by The Moscow Times.
“What were you doing there?” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, asked Russian pop star Filipp Kirkorov, who is among several attendees who have issued video apologies.
The same question might be asked of Putin: 24 years ago, as Russia waged a bloody second war against separatists in the southern Chechnya region that he spearheaded, Putin visited a St. Petersburg strip club.
WATCH: When Anastasia Ivleyeva, a popular online influencer, invited Russian celebrities to a party with the theme “almost naked,” she did not expect a nationwide backlash.
On the evening of December 25, 1999, Putin and several government ministers visited the Luna nightclub in central St. Petersburg, an outing reported two years later by two Russian newspapers that quoted club personnel. One of the newspapers, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, described Luna as “an elite entertainment and erotic club” in Putin’s native St. Petersburg.
President Boris Yeltsin had appointed Putin his prime minister four months earlier, in August 1999. Shortly after the appointment, deadly bombings of apartment buildings in Russia that Putin blamed on Chechen terrorists prompted him to launch a bombing campaign against Chechnya, and he famously vowed to “wipe [terrorists] out in the outhouse.”
Six days after visiting the strip club, Putin was appointed acting president, and he has ruled Russia as president or prime minister ever since.
‘Erotic Bullfight’ And Putin’s Autograph
Luna, which was famous for its erotic parties, opened in 1994 and was located in the building that is currently home to the St. Petersburg State University of Industrial Technologies and Design. The university’s emblem now adorns the building with the motto “traditions and stability.”
Putin’s visit to the strip club came amid heavy security, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta and a report several months later by the Russian tabloid Express Gazeta.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that Putin was accompanied by Kremlin security officers, though he had not yet been named acting president.
“Despite the heightened security measures, we didn’t close the club to the public that evening,” Express Gazeta quoted the club’s general director as saying. “Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] arrived together with several ministers.”
Putin and his entourage sat directly opposite the stage, the general director added.
The show that evening was titled Moonlight Extravaganza and included “an erotic bullfight in which a half-naked bullfighter took part,” the Express Gazeta report said.
“Luxurious and very daring costumes clearly emphasized the charms of the dancers. There were girls for absolutely every taste,” the tabloid wrote, adding that Putin “watched the dance numbers with undisguised interest.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted one of the Luna strippers, identified only as Oksana, as saying of Putin: “I caught his gaze on me, and I even felt a little awkward.”
The newspaper’s reporter Besik Pipiya wrote that the Moonlight Extravaganza show that Putin and his fellow ministers watched had “everything”: “Love with concubines in the hot desert, the bewitching dance of a snake woman, love between a receptionist and a maid, a temperamental bullfight in which a powerful bull and a fragile bullfighter girl compete in agility.”
“You can see the breasts – sizes 2, 3, and 4 – of the dancers in abundance,” Pipiya added.
Putin’s autograph was even engraved on a metal plaque and hung in a frame on the wall of the club along with the signatures of other VIP guests. The signature on the plaque matches that of Putin’s in official documents.
The sign hung there until at least 2003, a source close to the club’s management told RFE/RL. The source spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.
Putin’s autograph on display at the Luna club matched his signature on official documents.
The source called it a “stretch” to compare the atmosphere that Putin enjoyed at Luna to the “Almost Naked” party this month that has triggered the wave of apologies from attendees.
“It was a good nightclub with a beautiful dance show. Rather, it was a restaurant with a show,” the source said.
Pipiya, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta reporter, wrote that Putin had previously visited Luna during his tenure as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.
That claim was corroborated by Russian businessman Maksim Freidzon, who told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that he met with Putin at Luna at least three times.
“It was an ordinary strip club. There were girls behind the bar with whom you could go into a [private] room,” Freidzon recalled in an interview.
Freidzon previously alleged that Putin took bribes for registering private ownership of city-owned real estate and processing licenses that he handled as deputy mayor. The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment on these allegations at the time.
Much of the official outrage over this month’s “Almost Naked” party in Moscow is being publicly framed as a battle against decadence at a time when the Russian military is waging a bloody war in Ukraine.
It comes amid a growing effort by Putin to portray Russia as a global champion of “traditional values” and a bulwark against what he casts as an overly liberal and permissive West.
Putin’s visit to the St. Petersburg strip club also coincided with significant military casualties for Russian forces. Just a month before Putin and his fellow ministers visited Luna, Russian troops surrounded Chechnya’s capital, Grozny, starting a siege that lasted much of the winter. Russia lost more than 7,000 soldiers during the Second Chechen War, according to official data.
Echoes of Russia’s current war and standoff with Western governments can be found in media reports published on the day Putin visited the Luna nightclub.
The newspaper Kommersant wrote that on the previous day, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe announced plans to suspend Russia’s membership in the organization because of the war in Chechnya.
In that same issue of Kommersant, Ruslan Aushev, then president of Ingushetia, Chechnya’s neighbor in the North Caucasus, was quoted as saying that his republic “does not support a forceful solution to the problem of Chechnya.”
Three days later, Kommersant published an article under the headline: The Taste Of Victory.
“On August 7, Russia entered the war [in Chechnya]. The first popular war since the Great Patriotic War,” Kommersant wrote, referring to World War II. “And this popularity is not explained by the fact that for the first time in half a century, Russia was attacked. Or rather, not only by this. The fact is that for the first time in the last half century, Russia has felt the taste of victory.”
Adapted from the original Russian by RFE/RL’s Carl Schreck. Reporting by Mark Krutov and Sergei Dobrynin of RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Andrei Soshnikov of Systema, RFE/RL’s Russian investigative unit.
Mark Krutov is a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Russian Service and one of the leading investigative journalists in Russia. He has been instrumental in the production of dozens of in-depth reports, exposing corruption among Russia’s political elite and revealing the murky operations behind Kremlin-led secret services. Krutov joined RFE/RL in 2003 and has extensive experience as both a correspondent and a TV host.