MOSCOW A senior ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin used an obscene Twitter post to attack Madonna on Friday after the pop star called for the release of three women who face prison over an irreverent performance in Moscow's main cathedral.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, a nationalist politician and former envoy to NATO, posted the tweet after Madonna told a Moscow concert audience the jailed members of punk band Pussy Riot were "courageous" and deserved to be free.
"Every ex-wh*re tends to lecture everybody with age. Especially during world tours and concerts," Rogozin, who now leads Russia's drive to upgrade the army and defense industry, wrote in a tweet in English.
The microblog posting was a crudely worded echo of frequent warnings by Russian officials that Moscow will not accept Western "preaching" on human rights and democracy, a message Putin has repeatedly delivered during 12 years in power.
Madonna, who is American, donned a balaclava like those worn by Pussy Riot performers during her concert in Moscow on Tuesday night and was cheered loudly when she offered her support.
Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stormed the altar of Russia's main cathedral on February 21 and sang a "punk prayer" calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin, who was then campaigning to return to the presidency after four years as prime minister.
Prosecutors want a judge to sentence them to three years in prison for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
They have been in jail since shortly after their performance, which offended many in mostly Orthodox Christian Russia, and Kremlin critics see their trial as part of a crackdown on dissent as Putin starts a new six-year term.
The women have said the performance was meant as criticism of close ties between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church and the clear if informal support its leader, Patriarch Kirill, gave Putin during his successful election campaign.
Western governments and rights groups have said the government's reaction to the "punk prayer" was excessive and are watching the trial closely. The judge is to give a verdict on August 17.
Rogozin, who some analysts view as a potential presidential candidate in the next election in 2018, did not mention Madonna by name in the English tweet on Friday or a Russian one on Wednesday.
But few Internet users had any doubt that he was referring to Madonna, who also spoke out in support of gay rights at a concert in St. Petersburg, Putin's home town, on Thursday night.
"She spoke about freedom, it is the state bureaucrats who are lecturing us every day on all the state channels," a Twitter user called Alexander Oleinik wrote in response to Rogozin's posting in Russian.
"Either take off the cross or put on your panties," Rogozin replied. His spokeswoman confirmed the messages were genuine.
Rogozin, former leader of the nationalist political party Rodina (Motherland), also wrote ironic messages about Pussy Riot, likening their supporters to a religious sect.
Rogozin was appointed deputy prime minister late last year as part of then prime minister Putin's drive to appeal to moderate nationalists.
He is known for his sharply worded criticism of the West and in particular of U.S. and NATO plans for a European missile shield that Moscow calls a threat to its security.
On Friday, a group of Russian Orthodox hardliners burned Madonna's picture outside Moscow's Christ the Saviour cathedral, where Pussy Riot staged its punk protest.
(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Tim Pearce)