April 17, 2013 4:44 pm

Medvedev battles Putin criticism

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Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev

Dmitry Medvedev battled to contain growing criticism of his government on Wednesday after a leaked video appeared to show Vladimir Putin tearing into the Russian prime minister’s cabinet.

Hours before Mr Medvedev was due to give his first annual report as prime minister, the Kremlin-friendly tabloid LifeNews released a video of Mr Putin seething at a group that included the finance, economy and regional development ministers, as well as regional governors.

“It’s either me who does an inefficient job or all of you are doing a bad job and you have to go. I have to tell you that, at the moment, I’m inclined toward the latter option,” Mr Putin said in the video.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, strongly denied that the Kremlin had condoned the leak – in the video Mr Putin asks for the cameras to stop rolling – and said the president had been addressing the governors, not the ministers.

But analysts said the footage’s appearance suggested a campaign by other members of the political elite to discredit Mr Medvedev. It is a push Mr Putin may find harder to ignore against the backdrop of political infighting and a declining economy.

While a cabinet reshuffle could damage the president’s credibility as an effective manager, a shake-up seems more likely now, given concerns that Russia is entering a recession, said Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

“If this is the economic environment, it would be rational to have a stronger person in charge of the cabinet and more constructive co-operation between the cabinet and other legislators rather than having a figure such as Medvedev who is seen as weak and to whom some members of the elite have been disrespectful,” Ms Lipman said.

Mr Medvedev addressed the issue of economic slowdown head-on in his speech to the Duma on Wednesday, saying Russia needed to become less reliant on natural resources, but offered few clues about from where the country would derive its growth.

He insisted that the retirement age would not be raised and said privatisation would only happen at sale prices that were favourable to the government.

Mr Medvedev devoted much of his speech to defending his cabinet members, in particular the education minister, Dmitry Livanov, who is under pressure for the declining quality of higher education, which has fallen under lax monitoring.

“A minister who is liked by all, is a man not likely to be performing his duties fully,” Mr Medvedev said.

But his comments were poorly received, even within his own party.

“We hope that within the government there are people who will resign, understanding that they have not fulfilled their duties,” Vladimir Vasilev, the head of the United Russia fraction, told Mr Medvedev and the Duma.

Separately, Nikolai Levichev another United Russia deputy, criticised Mr Medvedev’s speech, which he said “for us lacked sufficient self-criticism”.

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