MOSCOW Russian opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov said a group of men burst into a Moscow restaurant where he was dining on Tuesday night and threatened him, days after a Kremlin ally issued a video showing him in the cross-hairs of a sniper's rifle.
But a Kremlin spokesman said the incident, in which Kasyanov had a cake pushed into his face, was not connected to the Kremlin ally and was simply an act of hooliganism.
Kasyanov, who filed a police complaint saying his life and safety had been threatened, is a fierce critic of Putin. Kasyanov's liberal opposition Parnas party is planning to contest parliamentary elections later this year.
"In a restaurant in the centre of Moscow about 10 unidentified men of a non-Slavic appearance threw a cake at me and shouted threats at me after which they got away in their cars," Kasyanov said in a statement.
The incident occurred after Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed hardline leader of the southern region of Chechnya, stirred fear among Putin critics earlier this month by releasing a video showing Kasyanov in the cross-hairs of a sniper's rifle.
Kasyanov told the RBC business daily newspaper that two people, who looked like they were from the Caucasus, an area which includes Chechnya, had thrown the cake at him.
"I link this attack to my political activity," RBC quoted Kasyanov as saying.
"I believe that today's attack is directly linked to Kadyrov's threats posted against me and because I filed a complaint against him with the Investigative Committee and the FSB (security service)," he said.
The 58-year-old former prime minister has repeatedly irritated the Kremlin with his outspoken remarks. He addressed the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe last month urging it to prepare a report into the murder last year of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
The Kremlin said later the incident with Kasyanov "should not be associated with the leadership of Chechnya or any other Russian region".
"What we are talking about is an act of hooliganism which, of course, must be condemned," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a teleconference with journalists.
A spokesman for Kadyrov, a former Chechen rebel fighter turned Kremlin loyalist, could not immediately be reached for comment.
A Moscow police spokesman said Kasyanov's complaint had been received and was being looked into.
Russia, in the grip of an economic crisis, faces parliamentary elections in September. Kasyanov's Parnas party has little chance of winning any seats in a system where the Kremlin keeps tight control of state media.
(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Ralph Boulton)