The speaker of the Russian State Duma halted an appearance by Economic Development Minister Maksim Oreshkin and told him to come back another time, a rare rebuke that underscored tension and rivalries in President Vladimir Putin's ruling elite.
The interruption, which veteran legislator Vladimir Zhirinovsky suggested was the first of its kind in the lower parliament house since Putin came to power almost 20 years ago, also highlighted concerns about the state of the economy early in what could be his final term.
Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin's tough-talking former deputy chief of staff, criticized Oreshkin's report on the country's economic prospects, suggesting he came unprepared and was being too vague.
"Let's stay away from general talk -- let's us talk about goals, about problems that may hinder implementation of those goals, and about our common responsibility," Volodin said. "We can achieve success when our annual economic growth is 3 percent. Last year we ended with 2.3 percent, and now we have been given a prognosis of about 1.3 percent. Where is the development?"
Other ministers who have reported to the Duma in a series of "government-hour" visits have laid out "visions of the future" with concrete details, Volodin said. He pointedly told Oreshkin that economic growth and development are his responsibility.
"If we are not ready for that approach, it would be better for us to postpone the discussions," said Volodin, who added that Putin has allocated significant amounts of money for economic programs and accused Oreshkin's ministry of delaying their implementation. He said Oreshkin should come back in late March-early April for the discussion.
'First Time In 20 Years'
Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the nationalist Liberal-Democratic party of Russia (LDPR) and a Duma deputy since 1993, said that "for the first time in 20 years, a lawmaker interrupted a minister."
The occurrence raised eyebrows in part because the Duma, like the upper house and regional legislatures across the country, is dominated by the ruling United Russia party and generally serves the purpose of passing laws proposed or approved by the Kremlin. One of Volodin's predecessors, Boris Gryzlov, said in 2003 that the Duma was "no place for political battles."
But it is a place where political posturing is common, and while United Russia members Volodin and Oreshkin are technically on the same side, the conservative speaker and the more liberal minister are in different camps in the Russian leadership. And while the interruption of a minister's remarks at the Duma was rare, efforts by legislators to blame Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's cabinet for economic problems or accuse them of failing to implement Putin's policies are not.
Volodin's rebuke came weeks after a state-of-the-nation speech in which Putin, whose trust and support ratings in opinion polls have declined in recent months, promised increased social benefits to raise living standards but gave little detail about where the money would come from.
Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999, started a new six-year Kremlin term in May 2018. He is barred by the constitution from running again in 2024, and analysts say officials are jockeying for position amid uncertainty over the future.
The Bell, a media outlet that focuses on Russian political and economic developments, suggested the "tough reception" Oreshkin got at the Duma may have been connected to remarks earlier this week that some interpreted as a sign he might seek the presidency.
In a March 4 article, the Russian daily Kommersant quoted Oreshkin as saying that he was "speaking in the abstract" but that "the president's job certainly would be interesting for any manager in terms of its essence and its content."