‘We can’t succumb to provocations’ The Kremlin’s spokesman comments on the unauthorized protests in Moscow
During his daily press conference on Wednesday, February 3, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was predictably bombarded with questions about the protests that ensued after the court ruling in the case of opposition figure Alexey Navalny. The day before, a Moscow court had sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison. In response, people took to the streets of the capital — and the security forces carried out nearly 1,500 arrests while violently dispersing demonstrators. According to Peskov, however, this show of popular discontent was nothing more than a provocation.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: How did the president react to the news from the Moscow City Court? I mean, [about] Navalny.
Dmitry Peskov: I don’t know of any reaction from the president. But you know that traditionally we don’t comment on verdicts and court decisions.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: And how would you comment, Dmitry Sergeevich?
Dmitry Peskov: No. This is a court ruling, which we simply have no right to comment on.
Komsomolskaya Pravda: Another question: how could this affect the political situation in the country?
Dmitry Peskov: Well the political situation in the country is rather multifaceted, let’s say. The country is preparing for parliamentary elections, which will take place in September. Many different processes are going on. The process of the formation of new parties…We see various party alliances and so on and so forth. So these are very multifaceted processes.
Govorit Moskva: Regarding the closures, which happened for the third time already in central Moscow. Yesterday there were local closures throughout the central part of the city. Is this somehow coordinated with the Kremlin? And how do they see such actions, when part of our capital starts looking like some kind of zone of a large-scale security forces operation?
Dmitry Peskov: You see, this doesn’t have to be agreed upon with the Kremlin. In this case, the law enforcement agencies perform their functions to ensure public order and the safety of citizens. Over the past few days we have repeatedly encountered direct calls for unauthorized protests. And measures are being taken to ensure that these calls don’t lead to some provocative consequences. Effective measures that will allow [us] to really avoid some of the worst consequences.
Govorit Moskva: But doesn’t this disrupt the life of the city?
Dmitry Peskov: Certainly, it brings significant discomfort to the life of the city. But these difficulties don’t derive from police activities. The police are responding to provocative calls and statements.
Govorit Moskva: Yesterday, there was a case when people were pulled from a vehicle. In particular, there was a video where law enforcement officers pulled passengers and the driver from a car and used force against them. There was also a case involving a camera operator from a media outlet [that] the Russian National Guard is already investigating.
Dmitry Peskov: Yes, you and I both know that there’s an internal investigation happening there.
Govorit Moskva: There were also cases where some people were just standing at a bus stop, waiting for transportation. It was reported that they also attracted [police] attention, though it would seem that there was no apparent reason.
Dmitry Peskov: I don’t know what kind of people at a bus stop attracted [police] attention. This again needs to be looked at as a separate case. As for these citizens in the car, again, this was preceded by provocative shouts and insults, if I’m not mistaken.
Govorit Moskva: Yes, this was reported too.
Dmitry Peskov: So everything here needs to be assessed and evaluated absolutely objectively and impartially.
Govorit Moskva: But there’s the opinion that the safety of the city is also being doubted due to such cases, where it would seem, for example, that someone isn’t participating in unauthorized protests, but somehow ends up getting involved in all this all the same.
Dmitry Peskov: Listen, of course the provocateurs bring some discomfort to the life of the city. You and I simply can’t succumb to all these provocations and in this case [we can] help officials to counteract these provocateurs and ensure order in this way.
Dozhd: I want to get clarification from you about these so-called provocateurs. What exactly were they involved in? After all, the people who went out at night yesterday, they didn’t gather in any one place, they didn’t have any weapons or flares, they didn’t hit anything and they weren’t even chanting, perhaps with the exception of some individual citizens. That is, there weren’t any demonstrations. What is this provocation about then?
Dmitry Peskov: The provocation lies in the fact that there were calls for an unsanctioned protest yesterday and, in fact, there were those who wanted to hold such an unsanctioned protest. The police responded very strongly to this. And the police response was due to the threats that could arise during such an unsanctioned protest.
Dozhd: But in this light nothing happened yesterday.
Dmitry Peskov: Nothing happened thanks to the decisive actions of the police.
Dozhd: But still, these excessive cases of violence that we saw yesterday, do they worry the Kremlin in some way, and not just law enforcement officers? You already mentioned the internal investigation in relation to our colleague who was hit on the head with a truncheon yesterday and fell, and [who] was wearing a “Press” vest at the time. Have there been other such cases? Do they cause the Kremlin concern?
Dmitry Peskov: You know, in general conducting unsanctioned protests raises concerns and confirms the validity of tough actions within the framework of the law “On the police.” These actions that really raise questions are being subject to internal investigation and further legal assessment.
Kommersant FM: Is the Kremlin anticipating that unauthorized activity could continue?
Dmitry Peskov: Well it’s difficult to come up with any predictions here. The only thing that needs to be said is that certainly such activity must be suppressed by law enforcement agencies in every possible way.
Ekho Moskvy: In recent weeks [Belarusian President] Alexander Lukashenko has commented on events fairly regularly, including [events] in Russia. And he talks about the fact, firstly, that he warned president Putin that similar protests would take place in Russia. Secondly, he formulates it such that the Russian and Belarusian presidents are in a very similar position, as he puts it, driven together in such a bond. Does the Kremlin agree with this assessment? To what extent are the Belarusian and Russian events considered similar?
Dmitry Peskov: I wouldn’t draw any parallels here. Certainly, there are similar elements. I have in mind the elements linked to provocateurs. Yes, there are provocative elements. But at the same time we are two different countries, we have different situations, different reasons, so I wouldn’t equate these at all.
Ekho Moskvy: How similar is the conduct of the security forces, in your opinion?
Dmitry Peskov: The security forces are doing their duty. They are fighting provocateurs and fighting against unauthorized protests.
Ekho Moskvy: In one country and in the other?
Dmitry Peskov: Certainly.
Translated and abridged by Eilish Hart