MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on Wednesday that an acid attack that severely injured the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director would not ruin the theatre's reputation.
Putin has not spoken publicly about the January 17 attack, which shocked many Russians, revealed discord in the theatre and left doctors fighting to save victim Sergei Filin's eyesight.
The Bolshoi "is an element of Russian culture. It is a social, cultural and simply Russian brand and this can hardly damage it", Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
"The Bolshoi Theatre is a group of people, a mini-society," he said. Such problems can arise in any other society," he told journalists who asked about the attack and its aftermath.
"This is not about the Bolshoi Theatre, it's about people."
A masked assailant splashed acid in the face of Filin, 42, as re returned home from the Bolshoi, causing severe burns and damaging his eyes.
A top dancer at the Bolshoi, Pavel Dmitrichenko, has been charged along with two alleged accomplices, and all three are being held in custody while the investigation continues.
Dmitrichenko, 29, confessed in a police video to organizing the attack but said in court that he did not intend Filin's assailant to use acid.
But about 300 performers at the Bolshoi wrote a letter urging Putin to order a new inquiry, saying they believe Dmitrichenko confessed due to police pressure.
Longtime Bolshoi Theatre director Anatoly Iksanov, meanwhile, has aired suspicions that Dmitrichenko was part of a wider conspiracy.
Some Russians have expressed shock over the attack on a senior figure at Russia's premiere cultural institution, but for others it only reinforced a negative impression of the theatre.
One of Filin's predecessors, Alexei Ratmansky, called the Bolshoi a "sewer" plagued by hangers-on, ticket scalpers and "half-crazed fans" in a Facebook posting after the attack.
Peskov said the Kremlin had not received the letter from the Bolshoi performers, but he suggested it would not be appropriate for the president to get involved.
"Putin is following the investigation, like everyone else, but ... this is not the prerogative of the president, it is the prerogative of the law enforcement organs, and they are working on it," he said.
Police released a statement on Wednesday saying that "the investigators are doing their work honestly."
"The Moscow police have deep respect for the work of the artists of the Bolshoi Theatre, respect their opinion and assure them that those who work in the police are also professionals in their field," it said.
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Michael Roddy)