A choral reinterpretation of a Cold War ditty depicting a Russian nuclear attack on Washington has variously drawn wild cheers, contrition, and ridicule for its glib message amid mounting nuclear tensions between Russia and the West.
The St. Petersburg Concert Choir capped its appearance in that northern capital's main cathedral on Defenders of the Fatherland Day with the song On The Wages Of Servicemen, which was written in 1980 by singer-songwriter Andrei Kozlovsky:
The song's first verse describes a nuclear submarine with "a dozen little bombs of 100 megatons each" crossing the Atlantic.
"I call to the targeting officer," the lyric goes, "'Take aim, Petrov, at Washington!'"
It continues in the same spirit and ends with the line, "May the land of the enemy burn to pieces."
The St. Petersburg eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church eventually expressed regret over the February 23 show.
"Choir performances are held regularly in St. Isaac's Cathedral, and the fact that appropriate music is performed is not a problem," the press office of the Petersburg metropolitan said on February 26. "But this song performed by a fairly well-known choir, of course, is surprising."
"We regret that this happened in St. Petersburg, and particularly in St. Isaac's," the statement concluded.
When it was written, Kozlovsky's song humorously referenced the awesome responsibilities carried out by Soviet servicemen for paltry wages.
"I can do anything for 3 rubles," goes the refrain.
The performance stuck a nerve with many observers as video of it went viral on social media. It comes at a time of elevated nuclear tensions between the United States and Russia as Washington has accused Moscow of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and announced its withdrawal from that 1987 agreement.
During his state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly on February 20, President Vladimir Putin praised new Russian high-tech nuclear weapons and said: "Our American colleagues have tried to gain absolute military supremacy by creating a global missile-defense system. They need to give up such illusions. Our response will always be real and effective."
On February 23, state television commentator Dmitry Kiselyov ran a bellicose segment that showed a map of the United States depicting targets he said would be hit in the event of a nuclear war, including the Pentagon and the U.S. presidential retreat Camp David outside Washington.
Nonetheless, Vladimir Berletsov, director of the St. Petersburg Concert Choir, called critics of the performance "f***ing idiots," noting that "the audience gave a standing ovation."
Igor Stakheyev, press secretary of the St. Isaac's museum complex, told the website znak.com that "the song was definitely inappropriate."
"The museum director is awaiting an explanation from the management of the choir," he added.
St. Petersburg Archdeacon Andrei Kurayev noted that in Soviet times, the song "was taken as satire of Soviet propaganda."
"But these days, in such a super-serious performance, there is no way to take it as a joke," he added.