NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin accused Russia’s main opposition radio station of insulting him and serving the interests of foreign powers in a public dressing down of the editor-in-chief on Wednesday.
The attack may signal that the prime minister, all but certain to return as president after a vote March despite streets protests against his 12-year rule, has grown impatient with media criticism and could move to curb opposition outlets.
“I see that you are upset with me. I see it in your face. Why? I am not getting upset with you when you are pouring shit all over me from dawn to dusk,” Putin told Ekho Moskvy’s Alexei Venediktov, meeting media at his residence in Moscow’s suburbs.
Putin said he had heard a radio show about U.S. missile defence plans while on holiday in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi that was “serving the interests of another countries at the expense of the Russian Federation”.
“I was lying in bed thinking: ‘This is not information. It is serving the interests of one country at the expense of another,” Putin told the audience of about 30 editors of Russian-based media outlets, in a typically earthy speech.
Among those present at the meeting - footage of which was broadcast on news channels and attended in part by journalists - were the editors of Russia’s top three state-owned TV channels, which are widely known for blacklisting opposition leaders from political talkshows.
Ekho Moskvy, which is controlled by the media arm of gas giant Gazprom, is among a small number of independent media outlets based in Moscow and is a popular platform for the opposition.
While Russian television did not air footage of the first street protests over the disputed Dec. 4 parliamentary election, subsequent rallies were given moderate coverage.
Venediktov asked Putin whether he was ready to meet some of the leaders of the protest movement, such as novelist Boris Akunin and satirist Dmitry Bykov.
Akunin and Bykov are among group of cultural celebrities who created The League of Voters, which aims to battle election fraud in March’s presidential poll.
“Everybody needs a fair vote,” Venediktov told Putin. “Why don’t you meet them despite the fact that maybe not everyone there loves you?”
Putin said he was ready for dialogue but that opposition leaders had snubbed his overtures. “We have invited them several times, but they never came,” he said.
Putin, who published an article outlining his achievements in office this week, said he was particularly infuriated by a remark in a blog on Ekho Moskvy, which said “only cattle vote for Putin”.
“What kind of discussion is this then? What kind of attitude towards the majority of our population?” fumed Putin, a former KGB spy who has ruled Russia since 2000 as both president and prime minister.
In an apparent attempt by Putin’s allies to sow discord among protest leaders, a video of politicians plotting against fellow opposition figures and swearing profusely also surfaced on YouTube earlier on Wednesday.
The clip, recorded via hidden camera and phone tapping techniques reminiscent of Soviet-era KGB surveillance, shows them scheming to sideline one of the protest movement most popular leaders, blogger Alexei Navalny.
“This material is being used to split the opposition ... to create an atmosphere of distrust and mutual suspicion,” said a Just Russia deputy Gennady Gudkov, shown chatting in the video with fellow opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov.
Last month, a Kremlin-loyal outlet published recordings of another opposition politician’s telephone calls, in which he denigrated supporters, in a sign powerful former spies in Putin’s circle may be acting to undermine the protest movement. (Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Writing by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Alison Williams)