French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was slammed by the Kremlin Friday for publishing cartoons linking last week's crash of a Russian airliner with Moscow’s air campaign in Syria.
"In our country we can sum this up in a single word, sacrilege," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. "This has nothing to do with democracy or self-expression. It is sacrilege."
Peskov said the cartoons – one showing falling debris from the plane with the caption “Daesh [Islamic State group]: Russia aviation intensifies its bombardments” – were “unacceptable”, but said Moscow would not be making an official complaint against the French magazine.
The second cartoon features a skull wearing a broken pair of sunglasses, with a speech bubble saying: “I should have taken Air Cocaine”, a reference to the scandal involving two French pilots who allegedly smuggled suitcases filled with cocaine out of the Dominican Republic.
The publication of the cartoons has been widely reported in Russi, although much less in France which is used to weekly outpourings of irreverent humour in Charlie Hebdo.
The Russian Duma's international affairs chief Alexei Pushkov tweeted: "Is there any limit to Russophobia on the pages of Western media?
"As the whole world comforts us, Charlie Hebdo preaches its vile right to sacrilege."
"Is anyone else 'Charlie'?" asked foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Facebook, referring to the "Je Suis Charlie" slogan used by the magazine's supporters after January’s massacre of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office, at the hands of Islamists furious at the magazine’s depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.
Charlie Hebdo’s editor Gerard Biard was unrepentant, accusing the Kremlin of using the magazine “to create a controversy where none exists, which is the usual manipulation you get from totalitarian states”.
"This magazine is supposed to be irreverent,” he told AFP. “And we respect the values of democracy and freedom of expression which the Russian powers that be, in this case, do not."
"Their argument about sacrilege is absurd. Are we supposed to no longer comment on the news in a different way or to say nothing more than it's sad? If so that becomes a problem for freedom of expression."
The French foreign ministry said in a statement that "journalists are free to express their opinions in France, the authorities do not get involved”.
Both Washington and London say a bomb may have downed the Russian plane carrying tourists, mostly Russians but also a small number of Ukrainians, from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. However up until Friday, Cairo and Moscow had sought to downplay the suggestion of an attack.
Since September 30, Russia has been launching air strikes against Syrian rebels, including (but not limited to) the IS group, in support of its Middle East ally Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.