Pop icon Madonna came under attack ahead of her concert in Saint Petersburg Thursday, with a Russian deputy prime minister slanging her on Twitter and a lawmaker threatening to fine her for "homosexual propaganda."
During a packed Moscow concert earlier this week, the US Queen of Pop called on the authorities to release three members of all-girl punk band Pussy Riot, who are on trial for performing a song against President Vladimir Putin at a landmark Moscow church.
At her upcoming show in Saint Petersburg on Thursday scheduled to start at 1600 GMT, she has promised to come out in support of the city's embattled gay community, with pink wristbands to be distributed at the concert.
"Either take off your cross, or put on your knickers," deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Twitter on Wednesday evening, using an epithet he forebore to spell out to describe the free-wheeling singer.
Pro-Kremlin activists planned to hold pickets ahead of Madonna's concert in Russia's former imperial capital, while a local lawmaker said her show would be closely monitored for signs of violating a citywide law against "homosexual propaganda."
"If this is the case, steps will be taken to open an administrative probe, and she will face a fine for violating this law," said a spokeswoman for Vitaly Milonov, a member of the Saint Petersburg legislature.
"We should not allow the imposition here in Russia of Western values that Madonna promotes."
Activists from religious group People's Assembly said they would sue the organisers of Madonna's show if the singer was found in violation of the city's law.
Saint Petersburg earlier this year passed a citywide law that fines those "promoting homosexuality" to minors and apparently equates it with paedophilia, even though homosexuality is not a crime in Russia.
Anatoly Artyukh, one of the group's activists in Saint Petersburg, said they had asked the city authorities and local police to record the show to examine it for possible legal violations.
"This is a show of perverts," Artyukh told AFP, calling her upcoming concert "essentially a gay pride parade."
"She calls herself 'Madonna' and desecrates the cross," Kirill Frolov, an activist of the Corporation of Orthodox Action told AFP.
"We will not tolerate this," he said, adding his group would also hold a protest against her highly theatrical stage act playing on religious themes.
Last month, the city authorities banned what would have been Russia's first authorised gay pride rally after a deluge of complaints from residents.
Russia legalised homosexuality in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union but only ceased to classify it as a mental disorder in 1999, and homophobic attitudes still run high in the country.
Gay activists had earlier called on Madonna to cancel her concerts in Russia as a gesture of support for the gay community. They said on Thursday they would also hold pickets ahead of her concert for not doing enough to support them.
"In our opinion, it is not enough to say a few words in support of homosexuals between two songs during a concert," local activist Yury Gavrikov told AFP in Saint Petersburg.
"If you position yourself as a defender of human rights then you need to do something more substantial," said Gavrikov, accusing Madonna of hypocrisy.
At her Moscow show Madonna stripped to a black bra to reveal the words "Pussy Riot" written on her back.
She said she prayed for the freedom of the band members after prosecutors sought three years in a corrective labour facility on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
The verdict will be handed down on August 17.
Critics say the criminal prosecution of the punk band is part of a widening campaign to silence the nascent opposition movement to strongman Putin who has dominated the country for the past decade.