Moscow -- "What is a woman called who sleeps with a man for $10 million? She is called a prostitute."
So said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, speaking about the Hollywood actresses who've accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, adding that they should have spoken up sooner.
Peskov made the comments to a group of students during a panel talk at a Moscow university this week, where he was asked about a high-profile sexual harassment scandal involving Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia’s Parliament who has been accused of forcing himself on multiple female journalists.
Peskov asked why the women had not come forward sooner to accuse Slutsky publicly and suggested they were following a “fashion trend” in making the claims.
“Look, if this poor journalist was assaulted by Slutsky -- where has she been?" Peskov told the students. "If he groped you, if he harassed you -- why did you keep quiet? Why didn’t you go to police? Why did so much time go [by],” said Peskov, whose remarks were filmed on a smartphone at the talk.
Peskov then said the situation reminded him of the accusations surrounding Weinstein.
“You know it reminds me of these Hollywood stars, who became stars, who did a lot that isn't becoming of our understanding of, let's say, honor and dignity, but they did it -- so they could become stars,” Peskov said.
“They earned hundreds of millions of dollars, and 10 years later they say that Weinstein is bad. Maybe he is a scumbag, but none of them went to the police! They didn’t say, ‘Weinstein raped me.' No! You wanted to earn $10 million. What is a woman called who sleeps with a man for $10 million? She is called a prostitute," Peskov said.
Weinstein has been accused by dozens of women of sexual misconduct, ranging from groping to rape. Weinstein, who was terminated by the board of his production company and expelled by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has denied all claims of nonconsensual sex.
Peskov was asked Friday to comment on his remarks. He refused and requested that journalists refrain from publishing the comments he made to the students, saying they had been said at a closed event.
His comments at the university are the first from the Kremlin on the Slutsky scandal, which has become a cultural flashpoint in Russia, where officials have dismissed the current movement against sexual harassment in the U.S. and Europe as Western liberal hysteria.
Three female journalists have publicly accused Slutsky of groping and trying to kiss them against their will.
Among them is Ekaterina Kotrikadze, a journalist at the television station RTVi, who has claimed that in 2011, Slutsky told her to come to his office “without a camera” to discuss an interview and then locked her in and pushed her against the wall to grope and kiss her. She said she broke away and fled the office.
Slutsky has dismissed all the allegations, accusing the women of trying to “make him into a Russian Harvey Weistein.”
Russia’s Parliament’s ethics committee conducted a short investigation into the claims, but last week, it exonerated Slutsky and instead accused the women of making the allegations to undermine Russia’s presidential election.
That decision prompted outrage in Russia’s independent media, and over 30 outlets, including some of the country’s most respected newspapers, have launched a partial boycott of Parliament in response.
Many Russian officials, though, have reacted dismissively to the women’s allegations. Parliament has responded to the boycott by threatening to strip journalists of their accreditations to the body. In a leaked recording from a hearing by the ethics committee members could be heard disparaging the women and their claims, with one telling the BBC journalist Farida Rustamova that she might have brought Slutsky’s advances on herself by pressing him for comment in Parliament's corridors.
In some state media and among officials, attitudes toward harassment and gender issues have also become another front in Russia’s recent clash with the West. With the Kremlin promoting an idea of a unique conservative Russian culture at odds with liberal Europe, #MeToo has been mocked as the product of an overly sensitive Western culture.
Peskov echoed this sentiment in his remarks to the students, calling the movement against harassment “that bacchanalia in Europe and the U.S.”
Ahead of the parliamentary ethics committee hearing, Russian lawmakers had also suggested they hoped #MeToo would not come to Russia.
“We don’t live in America or in Europe. Why should we copy everything they do? If a woman doesn’t want [attention], then nobody will harass her,” Tamara Pletneva, the head of Parliament’s family affairs committee, told the Latvia-based Russian news outlet Meduza.