MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin threatened to sack senior officials over a failure to carry out his orders on social spending in a warning to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's government.
Unofficial video footage released on Wednesday showed Putin berating officials at a meeting on housing attended by several ministers including Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak.
In the footage, published online shortly before Medvedev started a speech to parliament on the economy, Putin called for more action to fulfil his pledges on social spending intended to improve the lives of millions of Russians.
"If we don't do it, we will need to acknowledge that either I work inefficiently or you work badly and you will need to resign," he was seen telling Tuesday's meeting in the southern town of Elista.
"I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I am currently inclined towards the second scenario," he said. "I don't want any misunderstandings and I want us to talk honestly."
The comments were made after the president requested cameras be turned off at the meeting, but the video appeared on the Lifenews.ru website which has close ties to the Kremlin.
The remarks follow months of speculation that Putin's relations with Medvedev are strained and that the prime minister might be dismissed. Government and Kremlin officials have dismissed the speculation.
A professionally produced video by an anonymous filmmaker was posted on YouTube earlier this year which used archive footage and apparently recent interviews to present Medvedev as weak and ready to surrender Russian interests to a conniving United States. The word "treason" is uttered by a narrator.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed the authenticity of the latest footage of the president chastising officials, but told RIA news agency the remarks were addressed to regional leaders at the meeting rather than the ministers present.
Medvedev's spokeswoman, Natalia Timakova, declined to comment.
Putin, who replaced Medvedev as president last May after four years as prime minister, pledged to spend heavily on social needs after facing the biggest protests since he first rose to power in 2000.
He reprimanded three ministers last year for not enforcing his social spending plans. One of the officials, Regional Development Minister Oleg Govorun, resigned shortly afterwards.
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Pravin Char)