London: Vladimir Putin is most likely to lose an honest presidential election if Russia holds free and fair polls next March, a former prime minister has claimed.
In an interview with `The Sunday Telegraph`, Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as prime minister under Putin from 2000 to 2004, alleged that the Russian "strongman" was rattled by recent protests against his rule.
"He is angry and frightened and has lost his self- control," said Kasyanov, who tried to run against Putin for the presidency in 2008, only to be disqualified on what he said was a trumped-up technicality.
"Putin understands that social pressure on him is growing all the time. He is nervous," he added.
Kasyanov, who used to be on good terms with Putin until he and his cabinet were unceremoniously fired by then Russian president in 2004, said he felt it was the beginning of the end for Putin.
"For the first time I have no doubt that if I or one of my colleagues was registered as a presidential candidate we would definitely win in the second round of voting. Putin has no doubt of that too, which is why he is afraid of us," he was quoted as saying.
Amid growing anger among the middle classes at rampant official corruption, authoritarianism, and the total dominance of Putin -- in power for almost 12 years as either president or prime minister -- it was the biggest protest of its kind since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
"If Putin wins an obviously falsified election in March the wave of protests against him will be enormous," Kasyanov said.