A spokesman for the radical art collective Voina on Monday announced that its members had broken into a St. Petersburg police station on New Year’s Eve and used gasoline bombs to incinerate a police vehicle used to transport prisoners as “a gift to all political prisoners of Russia.” Amateur video posted online showed a figure tossing lighted objects under a large vehicle, which was then engulfed in flames and spewed smoke into the night sky.
The St. Petersburg police responded skeptically to the Voina claims, releasing a statement that described the fire damage to the vehicle as “insignificant” and noting that there were similar rumors of arson after a fire in August that forensics specialists determined had been caused by a short circuit.
Voina, which was founded by a Moscow philosophy student in 2005, won a contemporary art award sponsored by Russia’s Ministry of Culture for a 2010 work that consisted of a 210-foot penis painted on the roadway of a St. Petersburg drawbridge, which rose to point at the offices of the F.S.B., the state security service. Its members went on to a project they called “Palace Revolution,” in which teams of men ran up to parked police cars and flipped them over, in what they described as a protest against police corruption.
The group’s activities dropped off in 2010 after two of its leaders were arrested on serious hooliganism charges; both men were released last spring on bail, with the assistance of $20,000 donated by the British street artist known as Banksy. The charges, which could bring seven-year sentences, still stand. A third member has been in detention on vandalism charges since taking part in a protest on Dec. 6 and is on a hunger strike, Aleksei Plutser-Sarno, the group’s spokesman, said by e-mail.
All day, liberals bickered online over whether the arson attack on the police vehicle constituted “pure art,” as one commentator put it, or, as another maintained, “an act as idiotic as voting for United Russia,” the ruling party.
Andrei V. Yerofeyev, a prominent intellectual who has championed Voina in the past, said he thought that the group had helped awaken a more activist spirit in the Russian populace, and that it should move away from radical political acts like the burning of the police vehicle.
“The goal of art is deeper than activism,” he said. “They have carried out their assignment.”
A version of this article by Ellen Barry appeared in print on January 3, 2012, on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: Russia: Artists’ Group Claims That It Burned a Police Vehicle.
Footage in the link below shows the performance