AFP

MOSCOW-While patriotic fervour grips Russia over its takeover of Crimea and President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings soar, some of the top names in Russian rock have emerged as among very few high-profile voices of dissent inside the country.

Those who have criticised the intervention in Crimea include several grizzled veterans of the perestroika-era rock scene as well as younger stars. Among the most outspoken critics is Andrei Makarevich, a curly-haired singer who led the hugely popular Soviet-era band Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), known for melodic songs about personal freedom.

“Everything that is happening in our country today - the rabid propaganda, the frenzy of jingoism, even the Olympics - are very reminiscent of Germany in the late 1930s,” he wrote in a series of Facebook posts. “When the mass psychosis ends (and it will), we will all remember that Ukraine is our neighbour and closest relative,” he added. The 60-year-old singer - who until now was not seen as an anti-Kremlin figure and even sat next to Putin at a Paul McCartney concert in 2003 - has faced a backlash.

When Makarevich attended a peace march down a Moscow boulevard in late March, wearing ribbons in Ukrainian colours, state television zoomed in on his face with a disapproving comment. More than 21,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Makarevich to be stripped of his state decorations including the title of “People’s Artist” for marching “with murderers from the Maidan” protest hub in Kiev.

In response, writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Russia’s top pop diva Alla Pugachyova were among those to sign an open letter comparing his “hounding” to the treatment of Soviet dissidents such as the physicist Andrei Sakharov and writer Boris Pasternak. The Kremlin has a cohort of stars ready to turn out in support, however. For Red Square celebrations after Crimea’s annexation, rock band Lyube - said to be a favourite of Putin’s - swiftly updated a patriotic hit to sing that Russia stretches “From Crimea to the Yenisei,” referring to a river in Siberia.

A host of popular stars signed a Soviet-style public letter organised by the culture ministry in support of Putin’s position on Ukraine. Among them were squeaky-clean pop singer Valeriya and patriotic singer Oleg Gazmanov, both listed in Forbes Russia’s top 50 entertainment figures and regularly shown on state television.