MOSCOW: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev yesterday defended new laws which opponents say will be used to stifle dissent, underlining his allegiance to President Vladimir Putin after talk of a rift.
In a live interview with five Russian television stations, Medvedev appeared determined to show he is in step with Putin and to silence rumours that the more hawkish president could sack him as premier.
Asked about new legislation which forces lobby groups funded from abroad to register as “foreign agents”, Medvedev dismissed concerns that the term was deliberately pejorative because it evokes the Cold war.
“What’s wrong with the word ‘agent’?” Medvedev said. “Agent means ‘representative’, and that’s all ... Anything else is just a coincidence.”
He also dismissed suggestions that the passage of laws in the last six months broadening the definition of treason, raising fines for protesters and increasing fines for defamation was part of a trend signalling a clampdown on the opposition. “I do not take it as a trend. I do not agree these laws are reactionary,” he said.
Medvedev, 47, stayed on message throughout the 90-minute interview, broadcast across the nation five days before Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address.
His remarks revealed none of the differences that have occasionally emerged between Putin and Medvedev, notably over the Libya conflict in 2011 and, to an extent, over the trial of the Pussy Riot punk band for its anti-Putin protest this year.
Putin and Medvedev worked together in St Petersburg in the 1990s, and it was the former KGB spy who ushered his more liberal protege into the presidency in 2008 because the constitution bars three successive terms.
But there has been talk of a rift since Putin rebuked the government in September over its fiscal plans and the conduct of cabinet ministers, and Medvedev criticised the president’s methods of dealing with business leaders.
Medvedev’s standing has declined sharply since he and Putin announced in September last year that Putin planned to return to the presidency.