The Kremlin's spokesman has said police should crack down on "extremists" trying to prevent the screening of a controversial film based on an early romantic liaison of Russian Tsar Nicholas II.
"This whole story is now taking on a pretty ugly shape," Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call late on September 13, saying police should investigate such "extremist action" against the film Matilda.
"Discussion is one thing, but extremist action is something completely different. It is unacceptable that film distributors should select their repertoire under pressure from extremists who are flouting their rights," he said.
The director of the Arman cinema chain in Kazakhstan, Bauyrzhan Shukenov, earlier in the day had said Orthodox Christian activists in Russia had called on him to stop the screening of Matilda.
He posted excerpts to Facebook from an e-mail he received that stated it was from "citizens of the Russian Federation, Orthodox believers."
"Reject the Matilda film, stay away from that dirt," the e-mail said. "Do not earn money in exchange of the death of your own soul and souls of those you will lure by this ritual of repetitive murder of the tsar."
"If you do not care about what happens to Russia, then think about your own fate now," the e-mail said.
Shukenov said the film will be screened at Arman cinemas across Kazakhstan during October.
Russia's Culture Ministry in July approved the release of the film in Russia. Regular screenings were scheduled to begin across the country on October 26.
But on September 12, a Russian company that owns the Cinema Park and Formula Kino movie theaters announced it would not screen Matilda.
The company said a series of attacks linked to the film and its director had raised concerns about the safety of audiences.
Matilda tells the story of a romance between Nicholas, when he was an unmarried crown prince, and ballet dancer Matilda Kshesinskaya.
There have been three high-profile arson attacks in Russia by anti-Matilda activists since the beginning of August.
Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky on September 13 called on police to stop attacks against cinemas and directors by what he called "sectarian arsonists."
Medinsky criticized State Duma Deputy Natalya Poklonskaya -- a vocal critic of the film and the former Russia-imposed prosecutor in Ukraine's occupied Crimea region.
Poklonskaya has voiced monarchist views and was widely ridiculed when she claimed in March that fragrant myrrh was seeping from a bronze bust of Nicholas.
"I do not know the motives of the respected Mrs. Poklonskaya, who organizes and supports this row," Medinsky said. "Moreover, I am not prepared to guess the motives of activist arsonists of different calibers, who vehemently call themselves Orthodox Christians."
Medinsky also said the Culture Ministry had given legal permission for the screening of the film in Russia, and that "any attempts to impose pressure on private or municipal cinemas are pure lawlessness and censorship that is directly banned by the Russian Constitution."
The resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union has been accompanied by the appearance of militant Russian Orthodox and monarchist activists.
They have become more prominent under President Vladimir Putin, who has portrayed the church as a source of guidance for society and appealed to what he has called traditional, conservative Russian values.
The liaison between Nicholas and Kshesinskaya ended in 1894, when he married the German princess who became Empress Alexandra.
The affair is well-documented.
But some enthusiasts of Nicholas -- who was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church -- insist the affair did not take place.
With reporting by AP and Reuters