MOSCOW, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party threatened on Feb. 3 to sack Russia's top senator for publicly criticising the former Kremlin chief over his handling of the economic crisis.
Long-time Putin ally Sergei Mironov, who is speaker of the upper house of parliament, said in a show on state television that Putin’s handling of the crisis had not been perfect and that he no longer supported every single Putin policy.
Few Russians in positions of power dare to openly criticise Putin, who remains the country’s paramount leader nearly two years since stepping down as president, and Mironov’s comments provoked a barrage of rebukes from Putin’s ruling party.
One Putin loyalist compared Mironov — who leads a rival pro-Kremlin party — to a rat and accused him of turning on his patron. Analysts, however, said the row was more due to campaigning for regional elections next month than a genuine rift within Putin’s inner circle.
"The only reason he has a political career is due — as he has said himself — to the fact that his was a warm supporter and admirer of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin," Andrei Isayev, the first deputy head of United Russia’s ruling council.
"Mironov thinks that the situation has become shaky because of the crisis and he is trying to run from the ship like a rat. But he has forgotten that the ship is not sinking."
Mironov, who once called for a change to the constitution to allow Putin to stay on as president for a third term, said United Russia simply could not take criticism.
Mironov’s Fair Russia party is widely seen as a Kremlin creation meant to attract voters who are unwilling to support United Russia and to bolster the nation’s claims to a thriving multi-party system.
"Mironov may make some mildly critical statements in relation to Putin but he always underlines that he deeply respects Putin and considers him the foundation stone of Russia’s political system," said Alexei Mukhin, who directs the Moscow-based Centre for Political Information.
Putin, since stepping down as president in May 2008, has taken personal charge of state efforts to allay the impact of the worst economic slump since the mid-1990s, though opinion polls show he remains by far Russia’s most popular politician.