MOSCOW (Reuters) - Dmitry Medvedev is glimpsed exchanging confidential smiles with Barack Obama as sinister music plays. The dead body of Russian ally Muammar Gaddafi, driven from power by the West, is dragged through the dirt. A camera homes in on the prime minister sweating and shifting uneasily in his chair.
The word ‘treason’ is uttered by a narrator.
A more than hour-long Internet video employs methods reminiscent of the Soviet past in excoriating a prime minister already laboring in President Vladimir Putin’s shadow.
Using archive footage and apparently recently conducted interviews, it presents Medvedev as weak and ready to surrender Russian interests to a conniving America - “no loyal ally”, in the words of ex-premier Yevgeny Primakov, one of those who seems to have spoken to the anonymous film-maker.
There have been questions about Medvedev’s future since he handed the powerful presidency back to Putin last year and took over as head of government after four years in the Kremlin.
Soon afterwards, Putin publicly reprimanded two of Medvedev’s ministers and fired one of them. More recently Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was sacked over a multi-million dollar corruption scandal.
On Thursday, Putin was shown on state television gazing towards the ceiling while Medvedev delivered his five-year vision for Russia’s economic development.
The video, professionally produced, specifically condemns Medvedev for having allowed the passage of U.N. resolutions that led in 2011 to the overthrow and killing of Libyan leader Gaddafi, one of Russia’s top clients for oil and arms deals.
Medvedev has defended himself in the past over such accusations, arguing that the West had exceeded the parameters of the resolution in launching air strikes in support of rebels.
“Russia didn’t only lend its support to the voice of the international community. Dmitry Medvedev tried to provide a more valuable service and it turned out to be treason,” the narrator says, portraying Medvedev as a tool of the West.
Leonid Ivashov, a retired general and now head of the Academy of Geopolitical Issues, is no less damning about the former president’s role in Gaddafi’s fall: “We lost an important ally, an important strategic partner and billions were lost to our economy and defense industry,” he says in an interview.
The video shows extended footage of the body of Gaddafi, Russia’s ally, being abused by rebels; it then cuts to unrelated archive film of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looking at her cellphone, beaming and exclaiming “Wow!”
A spokeswoman for Medvedev declined to comment on the video.
In Soviet times, the decline and fall of senior figures would be divined in subtle signs; their distance from the leader in a group photograph, the position of their name in an obituary, the frequency with which they were quoted.
Post-Soviet politicians and magnates in the 1990s embraced the greater drama of the mass media age; a video of a minister frolicking in a sauna with naked women typified their “information wars”. But the general tactic, to undermine and discredit by the drip of innuendo and accusation, has remained the same, and the authors remain, as in Soviet times, anonymous.
The video, the second of its kind in six months to be directed against Medvedev, the turmoil in the government with the defense minister’s dismissal and looming economic difficulties all conspire to weaken Medvedev.
The respected newspaper Kommersant, citing dipping economic indicators, predicted Medvedev’s government would fold, though it might continue at least until autumn.
Commenting on the video, Maria Lipman, analyst at Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, said: “There are rumors that have circulated for a while that he would not last long in his position of prime minister.
“It is not reasonable to keep a weak figure as prime minister at a time when you need a vision and firmness - because the economic situation is not as auspicious as it once was.”
Putin, however, might be content to keep a prime minister with no strong power base of his own. He could also benefit in maintaining distance from unpopular future economic decisions that would fall to the prime minister.
Putin’s own conservative power base, drawing on the defense industry and security services, is considered one of Medvedev’s most intractable opponents.
He oversaw Medvedev’s election as head of state in 2008 in a maneuver that kept power in Putin’s hands while satisfying a constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms.
As president, Medvedev, who is 13 years Putin’s junior, espoused more liberal ideas of democratic and judicial reform. Little was ever implemented, but many hardliners believe his approach encouraged a protest movement that emerged after a parliamentary election in 2011 and weakened support for Putin.
Putin remains by far the most popular politician in Russia, but since the 2011 poll his authority has been questioned and, notably in Internet videos, he has been subject to ridicule.
Who produced the video is a mystery. It was published from a YouTube account bearing the double-headed eagle symbol of the Russian state and in the name of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who has locked horns with the premier on military spending; Rogozin, however, denied having any hand in it.
The movie recalls a public rift between Medvedev and Putin over Libya, when Putin likened the Western mission to a crusade and Medvedev rebuked his mentor for “unacceptable” language.
Former prime minister and ambassador Primakov, speaking in the video, suggested that Medvedev should have consulted more with Putin before making the decision on Libya: “Those kinds of things should be agreed at the top. So that it’s not just the decision of one person,” he says.
The video takes the criticism of Medvedev to the heartland of Putin’s electoral support, the industrial working class.
The narrator accuses Medvedev of cancelling contracts for the delivery of weapons to Libya and shows workers at a factory outside Moscow complaining: “Apart from the material losses, there is loss of morale as well. When you feel that everything you worked for over so many years is no longer needed,” says Leonid Sizov at the engineering plant of KB Mashinostroyeniye.
Comments on the film on the YouTube site ranged from anger against Medvedev based on the video’s allegations to suspicion that it was commissioned by the FSB, successor agency to the Soviet KGB and a close ally of Putin, the FSB’s former chief.
Some also directed their wrath against Putin himself:
“Who brought this baby to power and who is keeping him there now?” wrote one person commenting on the video. “That someone should first of all answer for his smug, imbecile protege?!”
Reporting By Thomas Grove; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Alastair Macdonald