* Unexpected comments by Medvedev caught off-air
* During interview Medvedev backs Putin on new laws
* Medvedev's standing has fallen, talk of looming dismissal
(Recasts with Medvedev's off-air comments)
By Timothy Heritage and Gabriela Baczynska
MOSCOW, Dec 7 Father Christmas, aliens,
President Vladimir Putin's lateness and "jerks" - Russia's prime
minister gave the nation his views on more than he intended on
Dmitry Medvedev let his guard down after an interview with
five Russian television stations when he failed to realise the
cameras were still rolling.
"I believe in Father Frost. But not too deeply. But anyway,
you know, I'm not one of those people who are able to tell the
kids that Father Frost does not exist," he said in a jovial
reply to a question about Russia's equivalent of Santa Claus.
He went on to make an unflattering allusion to Putin's
frequent lateness for meetings.
"Colleagues, somebody should be extremely punctual, while
somebody else is exhausting all the limits for being late," he
said, smiling wryly on a day when his mentor was more than an
hour late for an event in southern Russia.
The comments touched off satire on the Internet which is
unlikely to help Medvedev, whose star has waned since Putin took
over from him as president in May after a four-year interval.
In the interview itself, Medvedev underlined his allegiance
to Putin and appeared determined to show he is in step with his
ally to dismiss rumours he is about to be fired.
Medvedev defended Kremlin-backed laws which critics say will
be used to stifle dissent and which appear out of synch with the
prime minister's relatively liberal image.
But in the off-air comments, he was less guarded.
When one of the five journalists who interviewed him
complained about federal investigators arriving to search the
home of a witness in an inquiry early in the morning, Medvedev
told the journalist not to worry before stepping out of shot.
But his microphone was still switched on when he said
casually: "They are just jerks, so they come at eight in the
morning. It's just their set of habits. I know many people who
work in the police. They think if they come at seven in the
morning they will get everything in the world."
ALIENS AMONG US?
Another of the journalists asked whether the president is
handed secret files on aliens when receiving the briefcase
needed to activate Russia's nuclear arsenal.
"Along with the briefcase with nuclear codes, the president
of the country is given a special 'top secret' folder. This
folder in its entirety contains information about aliens who
visited our planet," Medvedev answered playfully.
"Along with this, you are given a report of the absolutely
secret special service that exercises control over aliens on the
territory of our country ... More detailed information on this
topic you can get from a well-known movie called 'Men In Black'
... I will not tell you how many of them are among us because it
may cause panic," he says.
None of the television stations that interviewed Medvedev
broadcast the off-air comments, but they were delivered to
Reuters as a pool signal and some were shown on YouTube.
Medvedev's standing has declined since he and Putin
announced in September last year that the former KGB spy planned
to return to the presidency, ending speculation his protege
could stay on.
They worked jointly in St.Petersburg in the 1990s and it was
Putin who ushered Medvedev, now 47, in to power in 2008.
But some political analysts give Medvedev only until March
or April as prime minister, citing turf wars between rival
Even during the interview itself, Medvedev answered some
unusual questions. Asked whether he believed the world would end
on Dec. 21 under a New Age prophecy, he said no.
He said he might have another tilt at the presidency if the
Russian people want it. But he won little acclaim on the
"It's sad when the former president and current prime
minister of your country is simply a pathetic person,"
Yekaterina Kudinova wrote on Twitter.
(Writing by Timothy Heritage and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by