Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the two-year jail sentences against three members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot for staging a performance protesting his rule, according to a report Sunday.
"It was right to arrest them, and it was right that the court took the decision that it did," Putin said in a television programme aired on NTV, Interfax news agency said.
The programme was to air in Moscow at 1650 GMT on Sunday but was broadcast to audiences in the Russian Far East earlier.
"One cannot undermine the moral foundations, break up the country. What would we be left with?" Putin reportedly said of the Pussy Riot performance in a cathedral in Moscow in February that led to their sentence.
He also said he had not exerted any pressure in the sentencing of the women. "I had nothing to do with it. They wanted it, and they got it," Putin was quoted as saying.
"My first reaction was to ask believers to forgive them, I thought it would end at that," Putin reportedly said. But the case was "wheeled up to trial, and the trial slapped a little two years on them," he said.
"It's important to say tender words on a person's birthday," Pussy Riot said in a sarcastic reaction on Twitter to the president's words. "Putin told our members about the 'little two years'."
"A little two years there, a little five years there," opposition leader Alexei Navalny wrote. "Misha got a little eight," he said, referring to jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky's sentence.
Donning brightly coloured balaclavas, the group of women on 21 February belted out a "prayer" in the country's main cathedral, Christ the Saviour, calling on the Virgin Mary to remove Putin.
Three Pussy Riot members, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, and sentenced to two years in a prison camp.
Moscow city court will hear their appeal on Wednesday.
Putin celebrated his 60th birthday Sunday, receiving warm wishes from supporters and numerous mentions on state television, but the event aroused derision from critics who since late last year have held regular mass protests against his rule.