MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin hasn't seen much support from Dmitry Medvedev in his bid to reclaim the Russian presidency, Putin's campaign chief says, suggesting there may be a rift between Russia's dominant political figure and his protege and successor.
Medvedev should have been more active in campaigning for Putin for the March 4 election, Stanislav Govorukhin told the daily newspaper Izvestia in an interview published Friday.
Medvedev succeeded Putin as president when he stepped down in 2008 due to term limits, but he has largely been seen as a stand-in for the figure who has towered over Russian politics for 12 years. He nominated Putin to run for president in September, and Putin, now the prime minister, in turn promised to appoint Medvedev the premier.
"I think it would be more proper if he actively joined campaigning for the man he has nominated for president," Govorukhin said of Medvedev. "I'm not seeing him playing any active role, and I find it strange because it was he who first proposed Putin's candidacy for president."
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov quickly moved to play down Govorukhin's statement, saying on Ekho Moskvy radio that Medvedev has shown "exhaustive support" for Putin.
Medvedev's decision to step down in Putin's favor has angered many Russians, who saw the swap as cynical maneuvering and a show of contempt for democracy. It has helped fuel massive protests in December that cast the strongest-ever challenge to Putin.
Medvedev, who said he agreed to step down because Putin was more popular, faced angry questions about the swap at a meeting with journalism students Wednesday. He again defended the decision by saying that he and Putin share similar views and that it would make no sense for them to compete.
Medvedev added that some of his supporters angry about the swap could have joined last month's protests in Moscow. The rallies in the Russian capital over allegations of fraud in favor of Putin's United Russia party in December's parliamentary election have drawn tens of thousands in the largest show of discontent since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Medvedev's election in 2008 at the age of 42 raised hopes that he could ease tight controls established by Putin and allow more political competition, protect media freedoms, liberalize the economy and ensure a greater respect for the rule of law. But he has delivered little.
Last month, Medvedev proposed a series of bills restoring direct elections of provincial governors and easing rules of registration for political parties, but the opposition has seen the moves as a belated attempt to assuage public anger that could be reversed later by Putin in case of his victory.