Russian punk band Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said the Winter Olympics are Putin's pet project and that anybody attending them would be supporting him. Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press
One of two freed members of punk protest band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, said on Friday their release was aimed solely at improving Russia's image before it hosts the Winter Olympic Games and was not a humanitarian gesture.
Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alyokhina, 25, walked free under a Kremlin amnesty on Monday after serving more than 21 months of a two-year prison term for performing a profanity-laced "punk prayer" protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral.
Tolokonnikova said the Winter Olympics, due to be held in February in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, were Putin's pet project and that anybody attending them would be supporting him.
"With the Olympics approaching, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] does not want his favourite project ruined," Tolokonnikova said.
Last week, Putin also pardoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, viewed by Kremlin foes as a political prisoner, after he spent more than 10 years in jail.
"The thaw has nothing to do with humanism. The authorities only did this under pressure from both Russian and Western society," Tolokonnikova told a news conference with Alyokhina at her side, adding she feared "there could be more repression after the Olympics."
'The scariest thing about Putin's Russia is the impossibility to speak and be heard.' - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
"Whether one likes it or not, going to the Olympics in Russia is an acceptance of the internal political situation in Russia, an acceptance of the course taken by a person who is interested in the Olympics above all else — Vladimir Putin," Tolokonnikova said.
Alyokhina said the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader has cast their February 2012 protest in Christ the Saviour Cathedral as part of a concerted attack on Russia's main faith, had played a role in the jailing of three band members. The third jailed woman was released last year.
Both amnestied women said they would remain in Russia and would shift their focus to efforts to improve prison conditions in Russia.
They also said they want to topple Putin, but didn't say how they plan to do it.
"As for Vladimir Putin, we still feel the same about him," Tolokonnikova said, referring to the chorus in their song, Mother of God, Drive Putin Away.
"We still want to do what we said in our last performance for which we spent two years in prison: drive him away."
Tolokonnikova said "the scariest thing about Putin's Russia is the impossibility to speak and be heard" and suggested that Khodorkovsky would make a better president.
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina steered most of the questions toward speaking about their plans to form an organization to help Russian inmates. Tolokonnikova said Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny will help raise funds for the organization.
In September, Tolokonnikova published a long letter from her penal colony detailing harsh conditions for inmates including long hours that they put in at the prison workshop.
Both women described Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who was expelled from the country in 1976 and has been living in the United Kingdom since then, as their role model. Tolokonnikova hailed him as a "human rights champion undeterred by fear."
The band members rejected suggestions of playing shows in Russia or abroad, saying activism is more important to them.
"We're not going to give shows," Alyokhina said. "We're just not interested."With files from The Associated Press