Russia's finance minister publicly forced to resign
The Kremlin's monolithic facade cracked wide open yesterday after President Dmitry Medvedev publicly forced the country's influential finance minister to resign for disloyalty.
In a public clash that was broadcast on television, Mr Medvedev confronted Alexei Kudrin at a meeting and demanded that he resign on the spot for disloyalty or take back critical remarks he had made at the weekend.
"If you disagree with the course of the president, there is only one course of action and you know it: to resign.
"This is the proposal I make to you," a furious Mr Medvedev told Mr Kudrin, pressing him for an immediate answer.
He was guilty of gross insubordination and rudeness, he added.
The encounter had all the hallmarks of a battle of the clans for Kremlin influence before Vladimir Putin's triumphant return to the presidency next year.
Mr Kudrin, finance minister since 2000 and a highly respected economist, appeared to relish the confrontation and conceded in an even voice that he did have disagreements over policy with Mr Medvedev.
But he said that he would first need to consult Mr Putin, the prime minister, before making a final decision about his future.
This seemed to enrage Mr Medvedev, who is often accused of being a Putin puppet, even more.
"You can consult who you want including the prime minister," he shot back. "But I am still the president and such decisions are taken by me.
"You need to decide quickly what to do and give me an answer today."
A few hours later, Mr Kudrin announced: "I have resigned and my resignation was accepted." Analysts said that Mr Medvedev appeared to be trying to reassert his faltering authority two days after announcing he would step aside as president next year.
Meanwhile, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, issued a strong condemnation of the "impasse" facing Russia and said the country could lose six more years of change and reform if the man who served two terms as president to 2008 was reinstalled as leader.
Insiders suggest a battle for the country's direction is raging behind the Kremlin's coloured walls between reformers like Mr Kudrin and neo-Soviet conservatives who want to maintain the sclerotic status quo.
Mr Kudrin's resignation is likely to unsettle western investors who saw him as the voice of common sense. (©Daily Telegraph, London)