The clashes that marred an anti-Putin rally in downtown Moscow this weekend were organized in order to make an impression on Western observers, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said on Monday.
“I think these images were intended for the West alone,” Nurgaliyev told journalists in Moscow. “We have never acted like this, but nevertheless, someone apparently needed this provocation.”
Some 440 people were detained during the opposition rally, which was held on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration as president. The rally turned violent after hundreds of people briefly broke through police lines in a bid to take their protest to the Kremlin walls.
Protesters attacked police with stones, injuring some 30 officers, eight of them seriously. Police clubbed demonstrators with nightsticks, but denied reports that they had used tear gas. At least six protesters injured in clashes have been hospitalized.
Moscow police acted professionally and in line with the law, Nurgaliyev added. He also said the disorder had nothing to do with Putin’s inauguration.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmity Peskov, said police had acted “too gently.”
Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term on Monday after winning 64 percent of the vote in the March 4 presidential elections, which were marred by allegations of vote fraud.