Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified what critics have said is a clampdown on dissent as a necessary move to maintain order in Russia and praised what he says are democratic reforms he introduced in the wake of mass protests against his rule.
“We should clarify what we’re talking about,” he said in an interview with the RT international news channel on Thursday. “If we understand [the term ‘clampdown’] as a simple requirement that everyone, including the opposition, complies with Russian law, then this requirement will be consistently enforced.”
Putin also invoked the mass riots that erupted in the U.K. last August, apparently comparing them to the anti-Kremlin opposition movement that emerged after last December’s parliamentary elections.
“A lot of people were injured and lot of property damaged. Is it better to let things deteriorate to that state and then spend a year tracking down people and locking them up?” he said. “I think it’s best not to let things go this far.”
Yet Putin also pointed to the return earlier this year of gubernatorial elections, which had been canceled in 2004, as well as his role in several bills introduced after his inauguration that he says have opened up the political playing field.
“These specific steps will pave the way for a more democratic Russia, and it’s true both for its people and its state,” he said.
An election law passed earlier this year was aimed at easing the party registration process and was widely seen as the Kremlin’s concession to the street protests.
Putin also addressed the case of three members of the punk group Pussy Riot, who were jailed for two years last month over their demonstration in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral last February against Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill’s support for Putin during the presidential elections.
While refusing to comment on the length of the sentence or the methods of the court, which critics accused of rushing through the case, he reaffirmed Pussy Riot critics’ allegations that the group’s performance offended many Russians.
“The attacks had a devastating effect on all our traditional religions,” Putin said. “And so in general, I think the state has to protect the feelings of believers.”
In a peculiar aside, Putin also mentioned a 2008 demonstration in which jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and husband Pyotr Verzilov had public sex alongside several other couples in a museum to protest former President Dmitry Medvedev’s inauguration.
“Some fans of group sex say it’s better than one-on-one because, like in any team sport, you can slack off,” he said.
Critics have accused the Kremlin of a violent and selective crackdown amidst a virtually unprecedented protest movement throughout the past nine months. The Pussy Riot scandal was the latest in a series of moves that have seen the mass arrests of protesters and the prosecution and intimidation of opposition leaders responsible for the recent anti-Kremlin street protests.