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Putin, Medvedev Ratings Slide as Rift Threatens to Split Tandem

Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Approval ratings for President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have fallen to their lowest since mass protests erupted last year, threatening to further widen a rift between the two men.

Putin, 59, who pushed aside Medvedev, 46, to reclaim the presidency this year, has the support of 44 percent of the public while the prime minister’s has 39 percent, the Moscow-based Public Opinion Foundation said on its website. That’s the lowest since December, when tens of thousands of people protested against Putin and alleged fraud in legislative polls.

The Russian leader, who has been in power for 12 years, publicly contradicted Medvedev this week by backing the assertions of former generals that the younger man waited to consult with Putin before launching military action against Georgia in 2008. Medvedev served as president from 2008 until May this year, while Putin kept the main levers of power as prime minister.

Medvedev has said he may seek the presidency again when Putin’s term ends, and he and his team are clashing with allies of the president as they seek to cut defense spending and ease state control of the energy industry, said Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based independent political analyst.

“Putin feels under pressure politically and is turning to the security establishment to shore up his position,” said Oreshkin by phone today. “He may eventually get rid of Medvedev, and for the time being he will limit his room for maneuver and make him a figurehead prime minister with no authority.”

Georgian Conflict

A documentary film called “Lost Day,” distributed on the Internet, interviewed former military commanders, including the ex-chief of the General Staff, Yury Baluyevsky, who asserted that Medvedev delayed for one day in responding to a Georgian attack on a Russian-backed breakaway region.

Putin told reporters two days ago that he had spoken twice to Medvedev and the then defense minister in the space of 24 hours as the crisis unfolded between Aug. 7-8 of 2008, while he was in Beijing to attend the Olympics. Medvedev yesterday said he spoke to Putin only late on Aug. 8, 2008 after already taking the decision to strike Georgia, according to video comments posted on his Facebook page.

“Putin effectively has started a campaign to gradually discredit Medvedev and make him appear weak while he himself is portrayed as decisive and competent,” Oreshkin said.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that there wasn’t any disagreement between the president and the prime minister and their so-called “tandem” wasn’t collapsing, according to an interview published yesterday in the Izvestia newspaper.

Medvedev during his four-year presidency spoke out in favor of greater civil liberties and democratic rights. Putin has responded to the biggest unrest since he came to power in 2000 by cracking down on the opposition, prosecuting its leaders and activists and tightening controls over the Internet and non-government groups.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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