Russia opens probe into flag desecration by US band

Russia’s interior ministry on Monday launched a criminal probe into flag desecration after a US rock musician stuffed a Russian flag down his trousers at a concert.

The band Bloodhound Gang scandalised Russia when a video was released showing its bassist Jared Hasselhoff stuffing the white-blue-and-red tricolour down his trousers and then throwing it into the crowd at a concert last Wednesday in Odessa, Ukraine.

A video of the flag incident has been watched more than 400,000 times on YouTube.

The interior ministry said in a statement that it had opened a criminal case “after looking into actions that demonstrated disrespect to the Russian state flag by a musician from a foreign band.”

According to Russian law, desecration of the national flag could lead to a jail sentence of up to one year.

Bloodhound Gang, founded in 1991, has had hits including “The Bad Touch”.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, a powerful agency that is an equivalent of the US FBI, said in a statement earlier Monday that it was examining the incident.

It condemned “the cynicism of the said crime, which expressed clear disrespect for the Russian state.”

“The investigation will evaluate everyone connected with this crime, from the actual perpetrators to its organisers,” the Investigative Committee said, adding that it would ask for help with its inquiries from the United States and Ukraine.

Ukraine on Monday launched a separate probe into Hasselhoff urinating on a Ukrainian flag on stage in Kiev on July 30. In Ukraine, flag desecration is punishable by up to three years in jail.

The band’s official website was down Monday, and a Ukrainian group called “UA Anonymous” on Twitter claimed responsibility for taking it offline.

After the Ukrainian leg of their tour, Bloodhound Gang was banned from a festival in southern Russia on Saturday. They flew out of Russia after being told to pack their bags by the culture minister and having their visas cut short by the migration services.

As they flew out, the band members were egged by pro-Kremlin youth activists and assaulted by Cossacks, an ultra-conservative group.

Before they left Russia, the group apologised at a news conference, saying that it was a tradition that everything thrown from the stage to fans “takes a trip through the pants.”

The video of the concert shows Hasselhoff telling the crowd: “Don’t tell Putin,” before pushing the flag into his unzipped trousers and pulling it out the back to jeers and cheers from the crowd.

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers called for the band to be banned from Russia for life and said that the Russian organisers of their concert should face consequences.

Top ruling party official Sergei Neverov compared the rock band to US pop star Madonna, who spoke out against a law banning “homosexual propaganda” to minors at her concert in Saint Petersburg last year.

Neverov said the musicians were “links in a single chain” and acting on someone’s orders.

The US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul late Sunday wrote on his Twitter account in Russian: “I find the action by Bloodhound Gang disgusting. I also condemn the violence against them.”

Russia’s interior ministry has launched a criminal probe into flag desecration after a US rock musician stuffed a Russian flag down his trousers at a concert.

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