Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blasted the liberal Echo of Moscow radio station, but its editor said Thursday he had in fact saved the state-controlled outlet from closure more than once.
Putin targeted the radio at a Wednesday evening dinner with journalists attended by its editor Alexei Venediktov, saying the free-wheeling station poured ""diarrhoea" over him all day long and served the interests of a foreign state.
Speaking to AFP after the highly publicised dressing-down, Venediktov said he was not afraid for the future of his station as Putin had protected Echo of Moscow from attacks by state officials in his decade in power.
"I know that during his presidency he three times prevented Echo's closure. All the papers would be ready, all the officials below him would sign off on them, they would go to him, and he would say: 'No!'" Venediktov said.
"'They buzz about of course but let them work,' he would say," Venediktov added, saying that had told Putin he was grateful.
Owned by state gas company Gazprom, the station often criticises the Russian government and suffered a hacker attack in the run-up to last month's parliamentary elections that took it offline for nearly a day.
"If they want to shut it down, they will. But I did not feel threatened. I sensed the usual displeasure of a head of government over the actions of a free media outlet," Venediktov said.
"As we learned yesterday, he listens to Echo of Moscow. Why would he shut down a boutique which he uses?"
Venediktov admitted that Wednesday's jab might have been Putin's most public attack at the radio station yet but noted the strongman prime minister had also critised it in the past.
"If we are talking about semi-public things, the prime minister expressed to me his extreme displeasure over Echo of Moscow's editorial policies during the war with Georgia," he said, referring to Moscow's five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.
Putin also took issue with the radio's coverage of the sinking of the Kursk submarine with all 118 on board in 2000 and the 2003 arrest of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on charges of tax evasion that his supporters say were a punishment for his opposition views.
Venediktov noted however that the Russian leader had not followed up his criticism with concrete demands to change the editorial policies.
At the lavish dinner Wednesday night, Putin called the station's reporting "gibberish" and told Venediktov not to get offended.
"I am not offended when you pour diarrhoea over me all day long," he said, also accusing the outlet of reporting on Moscow's missile defence policies with a bias in favour of the United States.
The strongman prime minister is seeking to reclaim his old Kremlin job in March 4 presidential elections despite an outburst of protest against his 12-year rule.
Putin also used the meeting with the editors to take aim at one of the country's best-loved but anti-Kremlin detective writers, Boris Akunin, referring to his Georgian heritage.
Akunin, whose real name is Grigory Chkhartishvili, is also one of several well-known actors and authors who established a non-partisan Voters' League aiming to ensure transparent elections in the presidential polls.
"As far as I know, he is an ethnic Georgian. I understand that he could have not accepted Russia's actions during... armed conflict between Georgia and Russia," he said.
Akunin laughed off Putin's attempts to paint him as a Georgian agent.
"He doesn't know the worst of it - my mother was Jewish. Perhaps I am also a Jewish agent?" he quipped in an interview with AFP.
Source: AFP Global Edition