MOSCOW — The ongoing investigation of last month's suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport that killed 36 people and injured dozens more has exposed growing tensions between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
During a Kremlin meeting Thursday with law-enforcement officials in charge of the investigation, a visibly irritated Medvedev forcefully contradicted a statement by Putin a day earlier by saying that the case was not solved and that no government official should say anything to the contrary. The country's Investigative Committee said last week the bombing was solved and the suspect was a 20-year-old man from the Caucasus region, but Medvedev said such claims were premature.
"I consider it absolutely inadmissible when anybody declares that a crime has been solved before all investigation procedures are concluded and before the indictment is prepared and sent to court and before a court's guilty ruling comes into force," Medvedev said in televised remarks. "Neither prosecutors nor investigators nor any other officials have a right to declare such crimes solved."
"We need to work but not indulge in our own PR," he added.
Medvedev's former boss and mentor, Putin, made his comments about the case Wednesday to journalists from the First Channel, a major federal television.
"It can be said that the case has been solved on the whole," Putin said.
Putin also said, however, that none of the terrorist cells operating in Russia had taken responsibility for the airport attack.
Experts in Moscow said the indirect exchange between the country's two top leaders displayed the growing tensions in the Kremlin. Medvedev and Putin, who served as president from 1999 to 2008, are considered rivals for the presidency in 2012.
Medvedev's irritation seemed natural considering Putin, before Wednesday, largely had been silent about the Jan. 24 bombing, said Dmitry Oreshkin, senior political researcher with the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"Whereas Putin remains de facto in charge of the country's special services and law-enforcement structures, all the responsibility for their action or inaction lies with President Medvedev," Oreshkin said.
Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation, a Moscow-based think tank, said Medvedev likely felt obligated to show heightened assertiveness given Putin's reputation as a flashy, take-charge leader and the fast-approaching election.
"The political pendulum always swings toward Putin in times of crises like the recent terrorist attack as people traditionally expect a resolute response from their flamboyant leader," Kortunov said. "Today, we may assume that Medvedev had to step in and react in such an irritated way because both of them are feeling more and more pressure in time and space as the 2012 presidential election looms. And the closer it comes, the more pushing and elbowing the public may expect to see in the Kremlin."
During the Kremlin meeting Thursday, Alexander Bortnikov, chief of the Federal Security Service, said the suicide bomber at Domodedovo airport was connected to a terrorist cell in the north Caucasus and that he was assisted by his relatives. Some people who can shed light on the case already have been detained and questioned, Bortnikov said.
Officials did not disclose the suicide bomber's name because the investigation was ongoing. An autopsy showed a large amount of narcotic and psychotropic substances in his body, Bortnikov said.