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Russian Prime Mminister Medvedev falls out of Putin's favor

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:27 p.m.
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Cuban President Raul Castro (R) and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are pictured during a visit to the Soviet Soldier Monument at the ols Soviet military cemetery in Havana, on February 22, 2013. Medvedev met with Castro for trade and energy talks as he kicked off a three-day visit to the communist island. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUEADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

MOSCOW — A campaign of insinuation and insult has targeted Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and in a country where all power flows from the top downward, his boss, President Vladimir Putin, has done nothing all winter to stop it.

Medvedev's failings get an airing in the press, and nasty, anonymous video documentaries accuse him of all sorts of treachery. Slights and humiliations are visited on him by the Kremlin. Bureaucrats ignore him. Putin, in public, takes little care to hide his disdain.

Medvedev responds by repeatedly trying to demonstrate his loyalty to Putin, which draws ridicule from politicians and pundits alike. As a consequence, the cabinet of ministers Medvedev chairs is barely able to function.

The Kremlin could halt the abuse any time it wants, said Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Carnegie Center. But Putin, she said, intends to send a clear message to the rest of his circle that Medvedev is irrevocably out of favor. And it is a symptom of one of Putin's strongest characteristics, she added: “He enjoys it when other people are being hurt.”

Gleb Pavlovsky, a once-trusted Kremlin insider who was fired in 2011, has a darker view: that Putin has convinced himself that Medvedev betrayed him, has conflated Medvedev with the political protesters who in fact oppose both men, and is lashing out in all directions in a fight against demons that only he can see.

Putin may feel that he has to crush Medvedev before he can discard him, said Kirill Rogov, an analyst at the Gaidar Institute, or else the prime minister might rise again to challenge him.

Putin's 60 percent approval rating would be high in any true democracy, Rogov said, but it is not sufficient in Russia's “electoral authoritarianism.” Putin's system depends on a mythology of overwhelming consensus.

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