Former parliamentary deputy Natalia Poklonskaya was appointed as Russia’s ambassador to Cape Verde on Wednesday. The posting is a significant step down — dubbed ‘exile with honor’ by some media outlets — for a woman who shot to fame for her zealotry as a prosecutor following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
- Poklonskaya said her new job in the Cape Verde islands off West Africa was a source of “great joy, honor and pride” (although Russia has no significant interests in this country of about 500,000 people) and that she had long wanted to work in diplomacy. She said it was odd that some people were describing the role as a demotion. “If somebody thinks that to be appointed as an ambassador and plenipotentiary of a great country like Russia, anywhere in the world, is some kind of demotion, I find that strange. It’s some kind of perverse taste,” she said.
- Rumors of Poklonskaya’s appointment to Cape Verde were first reported by media outlet RBK in late August. A source close to the Kremlin said at the time that, due to her extravagant positions and unpredictable behavior, neither the Kremlin, nor the ruling United Russia party, nor the Crimean authorities wanted to see her continue in her role as a deputy in the Russian parliament.
- Poklonskaya shot to fame in 2014 when she became the first prosecutor of Crimea following its annexation by Russia. She previously worked as a prosecutor for Ukraine, but switched allegiance following the Russian takeover. Her pro-Russia statements, youth and classical good looks quickly made her a symbol of the so-called Russian Spring and she gained a huge internet following, especially in Japan, where she was made into a popular character in anime and manga art.
- Poklonskaya left Crimea in 2016 after she was elected to the Duma on a United Russia ticket. She was made chair of the parliamentary commission that monitored the income of deputies, but lost that job in 2018 after parliament passed a controversial bill raising the age of retirement. Poklonskaya was the only member of United Russia to vote against the bill, and was accused of breaching party discipline. Poklonskaya declined to take part in United Russia’s primaries earlier this year, explaining that she was transferring to a new role.
- One of Poklonskaya’s most notable campaigns during her time in parliament was to oppose the movie Matilda, which tells the story of a premarital relationship between Russia’s last tsar, Nikolai II, and ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya. A fervent Orthodox believer and devotee of Nikolai II, who was executed following the Russian Revolution, Poklonskaya submitted repeated complaints about the movie, accusing some of the actors of Satanism and blasphemy. However, she later publicly repented of her role in the campaign, which culminated in the firebombing of the director’s offices and an attack on a cinema.
- Ukraine has opened several criminal cases against Poklonskaya in relation to the annexation of Crimea and she is under sanctions from Ukraine, the European Union, the U.S., Canada and Japan. “Even in Africa, you cannot hide,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement following her ambassadorial appointment.
Why the world should care: Poklonskaya’s new job in the political backwater of Cape Verde demonstrates not only how the Kremlin deals with unruly deputies, but how it continues to defend the legacy of events in Crimea in 2014. Had she not been an iconic figure of the annexation, Poklonskaya’s exit from parliament would likely have spelled the end of her political career.