Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, has made it clear there is a limit to his patience while facing criticism from his country’s few remaining independent media outlets.
During a meeting with 30 editors he lost his temper with one radio station editor, accusing his station of “covering [him] in shit” and saying it “served the interests” of foreign countries.
The notoriously thin-skinned Mr Putin has been under fire from Russia’s opposition after parliamentary elections on December 4, which protesters say were rigged in favour of the ruling party, United Russia.
Mr Putin made it clear during the meeting with editors that Russia’s independent media continued to exist at his pleasure, in what may presage a crackdown on the press.
Jabbing a finger at Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, Mr Putin scolded: “Someone wrote on your website ‘only cattle vote for Putin and I haven’t read his [Putin’s] article’,” referring to an article published earlier this week in which the prime minister laid out his vision for Russia.
“What kind of a discussion is that? How can you have a discussion with someone who thinks that the majority here, that is the majority, those who voted for me, are cattle?”
Echo Moskvy is owned by Gazprom, the nation’s gas monopoly. Nonetheless it is largely due to Mr Venediktov’s forceful defence of the station’s editorial policy that it is allowed to exist. Most media in Russia, especially television, have come under the control of either the state or of Kremlin-friendly oligarchs who enforce a pro-Putin line.
Nonetheless Mr Putin said that Russia had greater press freedom than the US because stations such as Ekho Moskvy were state financed.
According to an ex-KGB thug like Putin government control means freedom.