(Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of punk band Pussy Riot, gestures behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow April 19, 2012. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has called for an end to attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church after a protest in a cathedral by a women’s punk rock band that the leader of the church has called part of a campaign against it.

Prime Minister Putin has not commented on Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” two months ago in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, described by the group as a protest against the close ties  between the Church and the president-elect.

But Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, underlined on Monday the need for religious tolerance in the world’s largest country, where the Orthodox Church says it is under attack from “persecutors” and “anti-Russian forces”.

“The processes linked to the growth in activity of civil society are basically positive. But there are also ugly side effects such as disrespect and aggression towards the Church,” Peskov told Reuters in an interview. “They must be ruled out. In the Russian Federation it was, and is, absolutely unacceptable from an ethical, moral and legal point of view to express contempt for religion or nationality because Russia was and is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country. Moreover, Orthodoxy is our main religious denomination,” he said.