A spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has praised late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev as a man who has played a largely positive role in the nation's history.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on independent TV station Dozhd (Rain) late Tuesday that Brezhnev made a strong contribution to the country's economic development.
"Brezhnev wasn't a minus for the history of our country, he was a huge plus," Peskov said. "He laid a foundation for the country's economics and agriculture."
Putin's decision to seek another presidential term raises the possibility he could rule Russia until 2024, drawing comparisons with Brezhnev who led the country for 18 years until his death in 1982. An image of Putin, doctored to resemble that of Brezhnev with his prominent eyebrows and a parade uniform bedecked with rows of medals, has become prolific on the Internet.
Years of economic and political stagnation under Brezhnev's rule helped set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Putin, who served as president in 2000-2008, shifted into the premier's job due to a term limit, but has remained the nation's No. 1 leader. He is all but certain to win a new six-year term in March's election and would be eligible to run again in 2018. If her serves both those terms he will have ruled the country for almost a quarter century, making him the nation's longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Russia has seen a steady retreat from post-Soviet democratic freedoms under Putin's helm, and critics have warned that his return to the top job would likely lead to further crackdowns.
Peskov's rare interview with a television station strongly critical of the government appeared to reflect authorities' concerns about a negative attitude to Putin's re-election bid among the nation's intellectuals and middle class.
Peskov acknowledged Tuesday that such critical sentiment was strong among Moscow residents, but argued it wasn't shared by people in the provinces.