* Medvedev gives interview, backs Putin on new laws
* Media speculate ex-president will be dismissed
* Medvedev's standing has fallen, mocked on Twitter
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, Dec 7 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry
Medvedev on Friday 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
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.
FALL IN STANDING
Medvedev's standing has declined sharply since he and Putin
announced in September last year that Putin planned to return to
the presidency, ending speculation that Medvedev would stay on.
A think tank, the Institute of Globalisation Problems, said
in a report this week that Medvedev was likely to survive as
premier only until March or April because of battles behind the
scenes between rival interest groups.
Other political experts say Putin is more likely to keep
Medvedev in place at least until there is an economic slowdown
or another crisis that requires a high-profile scapegoat.
Medvedev ignored the rumours in Friday's interview,
during which he was asked about drunk driving and a possible ban
on smoking in public places, and denied the world would end on
Dec. 21 under a New Age prophecy.
He said he might have another tilt at the presidency one day
if the Russian people want it. But the reaction on social media
was discouraging, especially after footage appeared on YouTube
of the journalists asking him after the interview if he believed
in Father Frost (Father Christmas) and what presents he wanted.
"It's sad when the former president and current prime
minister of your country is simply a pathetic person," wrote
Yekaterina Kudinova on Twitter.
Another, identified as Borman, wrote: "Journalists, stop
mocking the baby ... It's time to sleep."