Stark divisions within Russia's elite were exposed Monday when a hot mic mishap showed Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev slamming security forces as "jerks" for launching an early morning raid against a filmmaker.
Medvedev on Friday gave an extensive end-of-year interview to five Russian channels in a clear bid to keep up his profile after ceding the Kremlin to his mentor Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
But attention has focused less on the interview itself than on a six minute video of Medvedev's supposedly off-the-record conversation with the journalists that followed the interview itself and has now emerged on the Internet.
In a relaxed exchange, Medvedev is shown bantering on topics ranging from wristwatches to whether Santa Claus exists. But most notably he also launches a blistering attack on the habits of the Russian security forces.
Medvedev slammed Friday’s pre-dawn raid by investigators on filmmaker Pavel Kostomarov who has been working on an Internet documentary about the Russian opposition called "Srok" (Term).
"Everything is going to be fine, do not worry," Medvedev tells one of the interviewers, NTV television newscaster Alexei Pivovarov who is one of the co-producers of the documentary.
"They (the investigators) are jerks for showing up at eight in the morning," he said, using a colloquial insult that literally means "goats".
"It's basically just habit… I have many people who work in the security forces and they think that if they come at 7:00 am they will get everything."
The spokesman of the Investigative Committee that carried out the raid then hit back, defending the raid as completely legal and condemning Medvedev's comments.
"It's very strange to hear comments that do not just insult Russian investigators but also undermine all the security forces of the country," said spokesman Vladimir Markin.
That comment was later removed from the Investigative Committee’s website with a source telling RIA Novosti this was due to a formulation "allowing an ambiguous interpretation."
But Markin told the Kommersant daily Monday that he was not withdrawing his comments.
Medvedev, a lawyer by training, has no professional background in the security services -- unlike Putin and some of his closest allies who emerged from the Soviet KGB.
The material has ended up on the Internet as a result of the live streaming of the interview provided by Russia’s state-controlled English language broadcaster Russia Today.
"We obviously regret that the technical part of the broadcast not intended for public viewing was shown," the channel’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan told Kommersant.
Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova declined to comment on what she described as an "eavesdropped conversation", Kommersant said.