Russian President Vladimir Putin has said protesters who took part in unsanctioned rallies last summer were provoking security forces who responded with violence.
In an interview with Russian news agency TASS that was published on February 27, Putin said people who complain about being beaten by police at such rallies "must first receive permission to rally, and then express their opinions."
When asked to watch a video showing a police officer "hitting a female protester, for which nobody was held responsible," Putin added that “if people are acting within the existing rules and laws, who’s going to swing the baton? On the contrary, [the police] would protect them.”
The question most likely referred to a video showing the ordeal of activist Daria Sosnovskaya who was punched in the stomach by police at an unsanctioned rally in Moscow in August.
The video of Sosnovskaya’s arrest, widely circulated on the Internet, showed two men in uniforms that resemble those of Russia's National Guard taking her toward a police van.
The video added to outrage at home and abroad over a decision by officials to block opposition candidates from running in elections for Moscow’s city council.
When the TASS journalist asked Putin about cases when police and National Guard officers complained that they "suffered" after being hit by water bottles some protesters threw at them, Putin said such attacks against law enforcement may "unbalance" the situation in the country.
Putin also commented on the conviction of blogger Vladislav Sinitsa, who was sentenced to 5 years in prison in September for a tweet advocating retaliation against the children of officers who violently dispersed a rally in Moscow.
"They [law enforcement officers] carry out their duties. And they must do it. Now they are dealing with demonstrators here, tomorrow they will go to a battlefield and take part in combat operations. And somebody on the Internet calls for killing their children. What is that?" Putin said.
Russia has in recent years increasingly criminalized online content, frequently jailing people for sharing or publishing information deemed extremist or illegal.
The law currently forbids the sharing of content considered extremist, though rights groups say this label is also applied to opposition material.