Some of the biggest news in recent weeks has been the jailing of three members of the all-female Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, who were sentenced to two years imprisonment, while Russian authorities continued the hunt for the remaining bandmates while several members fled Russia to escape prosecution.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, were convicted for their staged performance and protest against the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of President Vladimir Putin, held at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in May – and were sentenced to two years imprisonment for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

The ruling sparked outrage amongst the music community as everyone from Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna and forthcoming Meredith Festival act, Grimes, showed their support for Pussy Riot and its persecuted members. While the trio’s sentencing also received  intense criticism from both international politicians and human rights groups.

Now a month later, and it would appear the strong international condemnation might actually be having an effect inside Russia, with the Associated Press reporting that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is now calling for the group to be freed – the first sign we’ve seen from the Russian government that their position might be softening.

The timing is particularly important, and could be a sign that the women’s release could be imminent given their case comes up for appeal in a few week on the 1st October.

Medvedev told members of his United Russia party during a televised meeting that keeping the three girls in prison for any longer  would be “unproductive.” “In my view, a suspended sentence would be sufficient, taking into account the time they have already spent in custody,” he added.

But not everybody in Russia agrees with the Prime Minister, who is seen as a liberal politician, and state television aired a program just prior to Medvedev’s speech denouncing Pussy Riot, reinforcing the Kremlins position on the matter.

Part of the program included the bizarre claim that the feminist group were actually financed by fugitive billionaire Boris Berezovsky who has lived in Britain since 2001 after falling out with President Putin.

The program implied the group were merely puppets for an agenda to destabilise the government, with Berezovsky frequently used as a boogeyman by the Kremlin to push their agenda. Berezovsky has since claimed he has nothing to do with the group, although he was “truly delighted by the actions and courage of the girls.”

The controversy has been a headache for the Russian government, with international leaders including Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard lodging a complaint with Russian leaders to express her outrage over the sentencing.

“We have indicated our view that the sentence for these young women, we believe is disproportionate and that view has already been conveyed to the Russian government,” Gillard said. ”That was conveyed through our embassy at the time the sentence was first announced.”

Whether this new development actually leads to the release of the members of Pussy Riot remains to be seen, but it’s the first sign that the Russian position is weakening. Keep an eye out for the official appeal.

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