MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Monday it did not regard opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a political threat to the upcoming presidential election and that protests he had organized on Sunday had been sparsely attended in places.
Navalny, who has been barred from running over what he says is a trumped-up suspended prison sentence, has called on voters to boycott what he says will be a rigged election on March 18.
Opinion polls show incumbent President Vladimir Putin is on track to be easily re-elected.
Though unlikely to influence the result, Navalny’s call for a boycott attracted thousands of protesters to rallies across Russia on Sunday, which saw the opposition leader detained by the police for several hours.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Monday it was unlikely that anyone could compete with Putin in the race.
“Putin is an absolute leader in the public’s opinion, a leader of the political Olympus, with whom at this stage it is unlikely anyone could compete,” Peskov said.
He said some of the protests had been thinly attended.
Asked whether the Kremlin considered Navalny a threat, Peskov said “no”.
Around 1,500 protesters converged at a square adjacent to the Kremlin on Sunday, with hundreds also attending rallies in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-biggest city, in Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains, and other major centers.
Moments after Navalny appeared at Sunday’s rally in Moscow he was wrestled into a patrol wagon and taken into detention.
He was released around midnight without charges, his lawyer Olga Mikhailova told Reuters, but would face court at a later date.
If charged with violating laws on holding demonstrations, Navalny could face up to 30 days in prison.
Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Jeremy Gaunt