A new opinion poll shows growing dissatisfaction among Russians for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, with as many as 45 percent saying he should step down.
The survey, released April 26 by the respected Levada Center, is the latest indication of deepening political problems for Medvedev, who swapped places with his longtime mentor, President Vladimir Putin, in 2012.
The poll of 1,600 Russians found that 45 percent of respondents felt strongly or mildly that Medvedev and his government should step down. The survey also found that overall trust in Medvedev's government had dipped to unprecedented levels.
The poll, conducted on April 7-10 across Russia using face-to-face interviews, had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
Medvedev's declining support comes after a steady drip of embarrassing publicity.
In May 2016, Medvedev was widely mocked when, during a visit to the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula, he responded to a crowd of retirees impatient for their state pensions by saying: "There's no money. But you hang in there. Take care!"
The prime minister has also been the target of the anticorruption organization run by crusader and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny.
Last month, Navalny's group charged that Medvedev had used charity and nonprofit organizations to collect donations from oligarchs and state banks and then used them to purchase expensive assets. These include elite residences, estates, yachts, and vineyards in Russia and abroad.
And Medvedev drew scorn last month when, during nationwide street protests fueled by Navalny's allegations, he posted to his Instagram social-media account a message saying he was downhill skiing. For his critics, that underscored how out of touch Medvedev was.
Political 'Hit Job'
Medvedev is a loyal protégé of Putin, who remains resoundingly popular for Russians and who is likely to stand for reelection in next year's presidential vote.
But the drumbeat of bad press for Medvedev has led Kremlin watchers to speculate he may be forced out ahead of the March 2018 vote as a way to bolster Putin's credibility.
The pressure on Medvedev has prompted speculation about who might replace him as prime minister if Putin sends him packing, with rival factions reportedly jockeying for position.
The Levada Center poll clearly hit a nerve for Medvedev's team, with his spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, calling it a political "hit job."
"The head of government does not pay much attention to opinion polls, especially those conducted by the [Levada Center] on certain political orders," Timakova was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
That prompted the polling center's director, Lev Gudkov, to respond saying he expected an apology, and that the reaction only underscored the concern among Medvedev's team for his falling popularity.
The authorities "feel extremely insecure in their legitimacy and their right to power," Gudkov said. "Indeed, they're afraid of the widening or growing resentment in society."
Meanwhile Navalny -- whose slick exposés and biting commentary have struck a chord with Russian society and riled government officials -- highlighted the Levada poll on his Facebook page, underlining Putin's connection with Medvedev.
"Yes, it's clear that Medvedev is Putin's puppet. And it's clear that he is a lightning rod. We all know that the reason for the country's degradation is Putin and his 17 years in power," Navalny wrote.