Members of the Russian-Belarusian band Bi-2 were detained in Thailand last week, reportedly on the orders of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, after Thai authorities claimed one of their heavily promoted concerts in Phuket was unauthorized. (The band, which has played many shows in Thailand over the years, disputed the allegation.) They were due to be deported to Israel and were on their way to escaping the clutches of the Kremlin until “high-ranking diplomats from the Russian consulate” stepped in Tuesday and their departure to Israel was canceled at the last minute, the band said.
Despite having already purchased plane tickets to leave, the group now remains locked up in a detention center in a cell with 80 other people.
All members of the group hold Russian citizenship, though four of them are also Israeli citizens, and two others hold Australian and American citizenship, respectively. Human Rights Watch has called on Thai authorities not to fall into the Kremlin’s trap and send the group back to Russia, saying in a statement Monday: “Under no circumstances should they be deported to Russia, where they could face arrest or worse for their outspoken criticisms of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
The group’s lead singer, Yegor Bortnik, known as Lyova Bi-2, was declared a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Foreign Ministry last year after he publicly accused “Putin and all his cognitively impaired trash” of destroying the country and vowed not to return.
A source close to the Russian consulate was quoted telling Mozhem Obyasnit last month that a campaign was underway in Thailand to punish Russian artists who’ve come out against the war. “As far as I know, it’s a personal initiative of [Russian Consul General Vladimir] Sosnov, but it’s possible [Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov himself requested it. Thailand is one of the last countries where he is well received,” the source said.
Vladimir Putin’s cronies have called for the group to face criminal charges in Russia. Andrei Lugovoi—a Russian lawmaker who, incidentally, is wanted by British police in connection with the 2006 assassination of defector Alexander Litvinenko—called the group “scum” Tuesday and said Moscow was eagerly awaiting their deportation.
“Let them get ready: Soon they will be playing and singing on spoons and metal plates, dancing a tap dance for their cell mates,” Lugovoi wrote on Telegram.