Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called an embattled doctor who is under pressure after his complaints of “window-dressing” unleashed a torrent of criticism, his spokesman said on Saturday.
The powerful Russian prime minister called cardiologist Ivan Khrenov on his mobile phone late Friday in a show of support, his spokesman told AFP.
“So are they putting the squeeze on you?” the premier asked the doctor in remarks confirmed by his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
“Well, you do not worry, we will not leave you in the lurch. Call us if anything,” Putin told the doctor.
Khrenov, a young cardiologist from the central Russian town of Ivanovo, has become a reluctant national celebrity after he complained about “window dressing” at local hospitals during Putin’s recent visit.
He told Putin during a live call-in show this week that officials had told doctors to lie about their salaries. He also said medical equipment had been temporarily brought to a regional hospital from elsewhere.
Officials vehemently denied the accusations, with Ivanovo region governor Mikhail Men saying equipment like a CT scan could not have been removed from other hospitals simply because it is too big.
The General Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday the doctor’s report was being verified and local prosecutors said they planned to call in Khrenov for questioning.
Putin has expressed bewilderment at the report and said it had to be thoroughly checked.
Anecdotal evidence regularly emerges in Russia that local officials thoroughly prepare for Putin’s visits and often take it to extremes in order to please the top boss.
His marathon call-in show was seen as a reaffirmation of his status as the true Russian number one, even after handing the presidency to his protege Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.
Speculation is buzzing that he may be planning to return as head of state in 2012 elections.