30 September, 2010

Nick Assatiani
(GJ Moscow Correspondent)

This morning I woke up to the news that had long been awaited for, but many in Moscow did not want to believe....

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sacked Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov on Tuesday, saying he had lost confidence in the ability of long-serving and powerful mayor to run the Russian capital.


“Yury Luzhkov is relieved of his duties as Moscow mayor in connection with the Russian President’s loss of confidence in him,” a decree signed

by Medvedev said (the Kremlin website, September 28, 2010). The decision was announced after two weeks of speculation over Luzhkov’s political fate and how the Moscow city drama could impact politics of the state at the highest level. Earlier this month, Kremlin- backed TV channels broadcast a series of documentaries and news reports accusing Luzhkov of corruption, abandoning his fellow-citizens during the summer smog crisis, failing to solve the city’s notorious traffic problems, and using his power to help his wife, Yelena Baturina, build her estimated $2.9 billion fortune through construction projects. However, Muscovites have neither vote nor say in the present conflict. Three times, in 1996, 1999 and 2003, Luzhkov won direct elections to the Mayor’s office, but since the administrative reform was introduced in 2004, his appointment has become the sole prerogative of the President. Thus the next Mayor will be a city manager delegated by Kremlin, leaving elections to history. Those who oppose the idea, gathered last Saturday in Bolotnaya Square to criticize both Luzhkov and federal government. The well-publisized public meeting was attended by around 2000 protesters which is still not too much for a 15+ million capital. Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov (former members of government, now – a leaders of opposition) insist that Luzhkov’s sacking came due to their investigations and persistent efforts to combat corruption in Moscow. Their report titled ‘Luzhkov. Aftermath’. has been the word of mouth since it was published in 2008, revealing economic crimes of the Mayor. Should we expect any presidential actions as a result of ‘Putin. Aftermath’. -  another investigation by the same authors?

The answer is, apparently, negative. Most experts argue that the conflict between Luzhkov and Medvedev has nothing to do with allegations of corruption. It’s the loyalty that matters in view of 2012 presidential elections. Luzhkov is one of the most influential and long-serving regional heads of government who had lost their offices in the past few years. And he did not step down, when prompted, in contrast to the presidents of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan or Kalmykia (his peers in terms of age and political weight). Needless to say, the decisions of President Medvedev are backed by the shadow ruler of Russia, Prime-Minister Vladimir Putin. His personal comments are still to follow, but the stand of United Russia, the ruling party which he heads, is already clear. In good old Soviet traditions, the party announces that Luzhkov will be excluded from the Supreme Council as ‘there can be no trust in a person who lost the confidence of the President’. Is political life in Russia resurging after a decade of stagnation? As I listen to the radio coverage of people in the streets hailing “the liberation”, I do hope that the public apathy will be sooner or later overcome.


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