Ahead of presidential elections next year, many within the upper echelons of Russia’s cultural circles see Serebrennikov’s case as politically motivated.

Serebrennikov is widely believed to have the backing of Kremlin adviser Vladislav Surkov, feeding theories that the director’s arrest is also part of an internal power struggle. But many outside the court on Wednesday said the director’s arrest was meant to send a broader message.

“Those who are opposition-minded are being shown that nothing will save them, whether or not they’re famous, talented, stupid, fat,” said Parkhomenko. “The message is: ‘If we want to snack on you, we’ll eat you whole.’”

Journalist Viktor Shenderovich compared the case to the prosecution of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was Russia’s richest man until he was arrested in 2003 and jailed for more than a decade in a case widely seen as political.