Two senior leaders of Russia's unofficial political opposition have made surprise appearances on separate political talk shows on the country's tightly managed state-controlled television.
Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former Duma deputy and a leader of the unregistered Parnas opposition movement, appeared on state-owned Channel One at 10 p.m. Moscow time on January 26, while former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, also a Parnas leader, appeared an hour later on NTV, which is owned by the state-controlled Gazprom natural-gas monopoly.
Nemtsov told viewers it has been a long time since he'd appeared on national television.
"It's true I haven't been in the NTV studio for five years," he said. "Obviously, something is happening in the country."
Both programs were recorded in advance and edited, but they featured sharp criticism of Putin, who is running in the March 4 presidential election.
Nemtsov even openly called for Putin to stand aside.
"You will be surprised but [Boris] Yeltsin served [as president] only for eight years," he said. "But Putin has been [in power] for 12 years already and he wants 12 more years.
"Maybe that is enough. He wants [to remain in power] longer than Brezhnev and a little less than Stalin. Who needs that? The government must change. The corridors of power must be aired out."
Most Critical Comments 'Removed'
Writing later on his blog, Nemtsov said the original discussion was two hours long, but the program was just one hour. He said some of his most critical comments were removed.
Russia has been shaken by mass protests following the announcement in September that President Dmitry Medvedev would not seek a second term and Putin, who served two terms as president between 2000 and 2008, would participate in the election.
In December, the country held legislative elections that were widely viewed as falsified.
Some analysts attribute the minor thaw in Russian state media to the reassignment last month of Vladislav Surkov, who has managed domestic politics -- including the media -- for the Kremlin since 1999.
Amid widespread calls for his resignation, he left the presidential administration and was named deputy prime minister in Putin's cabinet.
Compiled from agency reports