Moscow: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday evoked Stalin-era executions in an emotional pre-election vow to punish those responsible for a recent string of costly space mishaps.

Medvedev's message came just a week before legislative polls in which the ruling party's strong performance could help secure his own standing once Vladimir Putin takes over the presidency in a planned job swap in March.

Russia's only one-term president -- a tech-savvy attorney by training who previously served as a state company executive -- has lacked Putin's boyish charisma and has been criticized for insufficient toughness in some polls.

But the 46-year-old came out swinging on Saturday when asked by a reporter in a live television exchange about why Russia's rockets were starting to crash and burn at an alarming rate.

"The recent failures are a big blow to our competitiveness. This does not mean that anything fatal happened. It just means that we have to find those responsible and punish them," Medvedev said in nationally televised remarks.

"I am not suggesting that we line people up against the wall like we did when Joseph Vissarionovich was in power," he added in reference to the firing squads that Stalin used to execute his political foes in 1930s purges.

"Nevertheless, we have to punish them seriously." Russia's once-proud space programme was hit by a shocking series of setbacks this year that included the loss of an International Space Station cargo craft and a Mars moon probe that became stuck in a low Earth orbit upon launch.