Putin slams liberal radio station, anti-Kremlin writer

19th January 2012, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused Russia's top liberal radio station of pouring "diarrhoea" over him and serving US interests, and attacked a famous but anti-Kremlin writer for his Georgian roots.

Putin targeted the Echo of Moscow, a state-controlled but liberal-leaning radio station, at a lavish dinner with journalists, attended by its editor Alexei Venediktov.

Calling the station's reporting "gibberish," he told its veteran editor not to get offended.

"I am not offended when you pour diarrhoea over me all day long, and you are offended, I merely said two words," he said, also accusing the outlet of reporting in favour of the United States.

"I was lying in bed before going to sleep or after waking up, I already don't remember, and was thinking: 'This is not information, what they are giving.'

'This is serving the interests of a foreign state regarding another state, regarding Russia'," Putin said, referring to the radio station's coverage of Moscow's missile defence policy.

The public dressing-down of a boss of the station controlled by gas giant Gazprom came as the strongman prime minister is seeking to reclaim his old Kremlin job in March 4 presidential elections despite an outburst of protest against his 12-year rule.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets protesting last month's fraud-tainted parliamentary polls, and the nascent protest movement is hoping to muster another big rally on February 4.

Venediktov, who has been at the helm of the station's editorial policies since 1998, appeared to take the attack in his stride but admitted his surprise.

"It was completely unexpected when the prime minister switched to criticising the station, which, it turns out, he listens to," he said on Echo's morning programme Thursday.

But "if I criticise him (on the air), then why can't he criticise me?" he said.

Analysts said the prime minister's critique should not be taken lightly however.

"The authorities are seriously frightened by critical media and may try to sideline the Echo," said political analyst and opposition activist Dmitry Oreshkin.

"Venediktov will be faced with a question whether to change his editorial policies or to keep them but take a risk on himself and the station."

Putin said he was ready for dialogue with the opposition but instead used the meeting with the editors to take aim at one of the country's best-loved but anti-Kremlin detective writers, Boris Akunin, who spoke at the recent rallies.

Akunin, whose real name is Grigory Chkhartishvili, is also one of several well-known actors, authors, and bloggers, who on Wednesday established a non-partisan Voters' League aiming to ensure transparent elections in the presidential polls.

Putin, who last month said the protestors were in the pay of the US State Department, questioned the writer's motives, referring to his Georgian heritage.

"As far as I know, he is an ethnic Georgian. I understand that he could have not accepted Russia's actions during... armed conflict between Georgia and Russia," he said, referring to Moscow's five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.

Putin accused the writer, among others, of ignoring his invitation to discuss the upcoming elections and Russia's political crisis. "We have invited them, but they are not coming," he said.

Akunin said Putin's call for dialogue rang hollow and was essentially a propaganda trick, as was his attempt to paint him as a Georgian agent.

"He was implying that (if my father is Georgian), that means I'm a Georgian agent. But he doesn't know the worst of it - my mother was Jewish. Perhaps I am also a Jewish agent?" he quipped.

"I am sure no meeting (with the opposition) will ever take place. He has avoided all meetings where inconvenient questions were possible, and is refusing to participate in the debates," Akunin told AFP.

© 2012 AFP

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