Minister steps down after TV clash with Medvedev

 

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The Independent Online

One of Russia's longest-serving politicians resigned – or was sacked – yesterday after a tense televised stand-off with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Alexei Kudrin, seen as the architect of Russia's economic stability over the past decade, said he had offered his resignation as Finance Minister to Mr Medvedev after publicly criticising him. The President's spokeswoman, however, said Mr Medvedev had sacked him without a resignation being offered.

The unexpected spat broke out after Mr Medvedev said at the weekend that he would not seek a second term as President next year. He confirmed that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would return to the Kremlin, with Mr Medvedev taking over as Prime Minister in a game of musical chairs. Mr Kudrin, on a visit to Washington, said he would leave the government if Mr Medvedev was Prime Minister, as the two disagreed on spending policy.

In a surreal five-minute exchange yesterday – highly unusual in the carefully scripted world of Russian politics – Mr Medvedev berated Mr Kudrin for making the public criticism of him. "If you're not satisfied with the course of the President, you have only one option, and you know what it is. Resign. So right here I'm suggesting this to you ... Answer this right now. Are you going to resign?" Mr Kudrin, looking shell-shocked, muttered that he would consult with Mr Putin before making any decision.

"You know what, you can consult with whoever you want," snapped back a furious Mr Medvedev. "While I'm President, I make those decisions myself." He then demanded an answer by the end of the day.

Analysts said the tiff possibly reflected Mr Kudrin's desire to become Prime Minister himself when Mr Putin resumes the presidency, something that could still happen, leaving the hapless Mr Medvedev with nothing.

Even as he was attempting a belated flexing of his presidential muscles yesterday, extraordinary claims were being made as to just how much of a seat-warming President Mr Medvedev has been during the three-and-a-half years when he has been constitutionally in charge of the country. A high-ranking army source claimed that in private, Mr Medvedev had never even pretended to be in charge.

"Personally, I always knew that we only have one commander-in-chief, and it wasn't Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev]," a lieutenant-general told The New Times, a Russian magazine. "In the midst of the Georgia events, I tried to report to the President on the situation in South Ossetia. He interrupted me, said it was not information for him, and told me to report to the chief."

While many in Russia suspected that Mr Putin was directing military strategy during the 2008 war with Georgia, the absolute delegation of decisions to him, if true, makes Mr Medvedev look an even weaker President than most people thought.

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