The extraordinary attack by Yury Luzhkov was the bitterest 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 yesterday 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 unquestioningly.
“How does this stand with your calls for ‘development of democracy’?” he asked the president.
He accused the Kremlin of pulling from the air a documentary on a Moscow channel that countered several critical programmes on his rule on state television. “This is nothing other than censorship,” he said.
The former mayor, who came to power in 1992 under late president Boris Yeltsin, is an unlikely champion of democracy.
Luzhkov’s comments are hardly likely 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 Luzhkov also noted in the letter that 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.