Moscow: Moscow`s ousted mayor Yury Luzhkov on Wednesday issued a withering attack on President Dmitry Medvedev, accusing him of promoting a climate of repression and censorship reminiscent of the Stalin era.
The extraordinary attack is the bitterest launched by any leading figure in Russia against Medvedev, who a day earlier dramatically sacked Luzhkov after 18 years in power citing a loss of confidence.
The lacerating broadside came in a letter sent to the Kremlin late on Sunday but was only published early Wednesday on the website of the opposition weekly New Times magazine.
"In our country the fear of expressing your view has existed since 1937," Luzhkov said, referring to the peak of the repression and Great Terror under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
"If our leadership merely supports this fear with its statements... then it is easy to go to a situation where there is just one leader in the country whose words are written in granite and who must be followed unquestionably."
"How does this stand with your calls for `development of democracy`?" he asked the president.
The former mayor, who came to power in 1992 under late president Boris Yeltsin, is in some ways an unlikely champion of democracy.
Luzhkov`s comments are unlikely to impress his own liberal critics who have accused the ex-mayor of sanctioning violent tactics against opposition rallies and extreme homophobia.
Medvedev has sought to promote himself as a reforming president who is encouraging the development of a strong democracy in Russia as part of a modernisation drive.
But also in the letter Luzhkov noted he had championed the idea of reinstalling direct elections for regional leaders which were scrapped in 2004 in favour of an effective direct appointment by the Kremlin.
Luzhkov`s dismissal was seen by analysts as one of Medvedev`s boldest moves since coming to power in 2008 and aimed at eliminating a potentially tricky opponent ahead of 2012 presidential elections.
Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said that Medvedev was aware of the letter but emphasised its content had not influenced his decision.
"The administration indeed received the letter. The president made himself familiar with the letter. Its content could not influence things one way or another," she told reporters on the sidelines of the president`s visit to the Far East.