Russia accused the West on Wednesday of descending into hysteria over the jailing of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, and the Kremlin said police had been right to use force to break up protests over his imprisonment.
A Moscow court on Tuesday sentenced the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin to three and a half years for parole violations he said were trumped up to sideline him, ignoring calls from the West and protesters at home to release him.
Navalny’s supporters tried to gather to show support during the ruling and then took to the streets afterwards to protest it, prompting authorities to shut down some central metro stations and detain more than 1,400 people, according to a protest monitor.
Navalny’s allies accuse the police of essentially outlawing public protest and of using disproportionate force and violence to break up rallies.
The Kremlin said the police’s response late on Tuesday had been justified because the protests were illegal and unauthorised. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Navalny’s allies of deliberately provoking the police by calling protests near the Kremlin following the Navalny ruling.
“The police reaction was due to the threats that could have arisen from staging such a protest," he told reporters on a conference call. “The provocations comprise of the fact that there were calls yesterday for unsanctioned protests."
“In recent days we’ve encountered calls for illegal protests several times and measures are taken to prevent them from leading to… worse consequences, he added.
Navalny’s allies have circulated footage of scenes they say show police violence, including one clip in which a riot police officer strikes a cameraman with a truncheon, flooring him.
Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the incident was the subject of an internal investigation.
The West has called on Moscow to release Navalny, but Russia has told it stay out of its sovereign affairs.
“The hysteria we’ve heard over the legal process for the Navalny case is of course off the scale," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.