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U.S. and Russian diplomats spar over Pussy Riot

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 5:36 AM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S., Russian ambassadors to U.N. exchange words over Pussy Riot, prison conditions
  • Three members of punk rock band Pussy Riot recently served Russian prison terms
  • A Russian athlete has an apparent Pussy Riot image on his snowboard, agency says
  • "Anything is possible," Winter Olympian says, adding, "I wasn't the designer"

(CNN) -- The U.S. and Russian ambassadors to the United Nations have exchanged a flurry of Twitter posts about the controversial punk rock band Pussy Riot.

Meanwhile, Russian media suggested a Russian athlete in the Sochi Games may have been sporting an image supporting Pussy Riot on his snowboard Thursday in what could be the Olympics' first protest.

In the diplomatic dispute, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, apparently initiated the exchange with a Russian counterpart when she tweeted Wednesday about meeting formerly imprisoned band members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, both of whom were released in December.

Power posted a photograph of herself with the two punk rockers, who "came by to discuss their time in jail," Power tweeted. She also stated: "Met some brave 'troublemakers' today."

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Power subsequently tweeted: "I asked #PussyRiot if they were afraid of prison. Response: No. In prison we could see the terrible conditions. It's human rights fieldwork."

Then the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told a U.N. press conference that Power should join the band and invite them to play at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot rehearse in Moscow in February 2012. The feminist group has been highly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies. A couple of its members were even found guilty of hooliganism and imprisoned for a 2012 "punk prayer" performance at a Russian Orthodox cathedral. They were freed from prison in December but said they will continue to be a "headache" for Putin's government. Members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot rehearse in Moscow in February 2012. The feminist group has been highly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies. A couple of its members were even found guilty of hooliganism and imprisoned for a 2012 "punk prayer" performance at a Russian Orthodox cathedral. They were freed from prison in December but said they will continue to be a "headache" for Putin's government.
Pussy Riot: Rocking out against Putin
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Pussy Riot: 'no reasons to be afraid'
Pussy Riot: 'It is a system of slavery'

Power responded on Twitter: "Ambassador Churkin, I'd be honored to go on tour with #PussyRiot -- a group of girls who speak up & stand for human rights. Will you join us?"

Power also added: "I can't sing, but if #PussyRiot will have me, Amb Churkin, I say our 1st concert is for Russia's pol. prisoners. #LiveFromMatrosskayaTishina."

Matrosskaya Tishina is a notorious Moscow prison where opposition activists have been held.

Pussy Riot tells Christiane Amanpour: 'We are free people, and free people feel no fear."

A third member of Pussy Riot, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released in 2012. The three members were sentenced to prison after performing a song critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin in one of the Russian Orthodox Church's most important cathedrals in February 2012. The performance was carried out in a flash-mob style.

Meanwhile, the Russian state-run media agency RIA Novosti reported Thursday that Russian athlete Alexei Sobolev sported an image on his snowboard resembling "a female figure in a balaclava wielding a knife."

That image purports to resemble members of Pussy Riot because the anti-Putin, all-female band perform while wearing balaclavas, the news agency reported.

The headline stated: "Sochi Snowboarder Coy on Possible Pussy Riot Protest."

When asked if the design was an homage to Pussy Riot, Sobolev responded: "Anything is possible." He added: "I wasn't the designer."

Sobolev, a slopestyle rider, was also the first Russian to compete in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and finished 10th in a qualifying heat Thursday. The drawing on his snowboard was described as "what could be the first protest by an athlete" in the games, the Russian news agency said.

CNN's Brian Walker contributed to this report.

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