MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin on Tuesday broke weeks of silence on opposition protests and police violence in Moscow, saying that President Vladimir Putin does not see the increasing wave of discontent as anything significant.
The Russian capital has been gripped by three consecutive weekends of large-scale opposition protests, with police arresting and detaining more than 1,000 people. Saturday’s rally was believed to be the largest in eight years. The huge protests followed some smaller demonstrations earlier this summer
Giving the Kremlin’s first official comments on the protests in Moscow, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Putin has not spoken out about the demonstrations because he does not think there is anything “exceptional” about them.
“Protests happen in many countries,” he said, adding that there are more important events in Russia for the president to care about.
Peskov rejected suggestions that the protests have plunged the Kremlin into a political crisis and defended police response at the three weekends of protests.
“We believe that a disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officers is absolutely unacceptable but we think that the police response in clamping down on rioting was totally justified,” Peskov told reporters.
Some of the opposition gatherings in the past weeks did not receive official permission, and authorities deployed a sizeable police force to disperse peaceful protesters. Police officers were seen using force on individuals who were merely standing on the street and who did not put up resistance during arrest.
Russian investigators last month launched a criminal probe into alleged rioting even though no property damage or violence from the demonstrators has been reported. Peskov on Tuesday refused to comment on why authorities describe the protests as riots.
The Moscow protests originally started last month as a reaction to authorities’ refusal to register a number of independent candidates for the upcoming election to the Moscow city legislature. They later gained momentum to reflect widespread frustration with Russia’s tightly controlled politics.