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Moscow's Cap's Blown Away
September 28, 2010 16:28

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday abruptly sacked veteran Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov after nearly two decades in charge. Luzhkov, a powerful political opponent, criticized the Kremlin and then defied pressure to resign.

Medvedev “lost confidence” in Luzhkov, Natalya Timakova, the president’s spokeswoman, told reporters today in Shanghai. “Now he’s just a citizen.” Medvedev named Luzhkov deputy Vladimir Resin, the city’s construction chief, as acting mayor.

While Russia's constitution allows the president to sack the Moscow mayor and regional governors at will and appoint a successor without elections, senior officials almost always resign before they are fired.

The Kremlin's website said President Medvedev signed a decree, which is effective as of today, relieving the flat-cap-wearing 74-year-old mayor of his duties. His departure comes as Russia prepares for parliamentary elections in 2011 and a presidential contest in 2012 in which Putin may seek to return to the Kremlin at the expense of Medvedev, his protege.

Russian business daily Vedomosti last year published a photograph of Resin wearing a Swiss-made DeWitt Academia Tourbillon Differentiel in rose gold, costing more than 1 million Swiss francs ($1.02 million) before tax. It described it as the most expensive watch worn by any Russian official.

Luzhkov was seen leaving the mayor's office five hours after the news broke. Interfax reported he had submitted his resignation to Putin's United Russia party and quoted a source as saying Luzhkov did not intend to leave the country.

Famous for his billionaire second wife and blunt manner, Yuri Luzhkov used the $37-billion city budget to keep pensions and public services high, maintaining popularity despite corruption allegations he always denied.

Even critics of the mayor such as Sergei Mitrokhin, a leader of the opposition Yabloko party, admit that he improved the lives of many Muscovites during his tenure, particularly by developing welfare benefits for veterans and the elderly.

A former chemical engineer, Luzhkov established “absolute financial and administrative power” in Moscow after the late President Boris Yeltsin named him to replace Gavriil Popov in 1992, said Nikolai Zlobin of the Washington-based World Security Institute.

“He was a good mayor when he succeeded Popov,” Zlobin said in an interview. “But a monopoly on power corrupts even good men.”

Noted for transforming and modernising the Moscow landscape, Luzhkov received criticism in July when repairs to the main motorway leading to Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport created lengthy traffic jams. Anger increased when the mayor remained on holiday in Austria in August even as Moscow suffered through weeks of smog from nearby forest and peat-bog fires.

The final blow apparently came when Mr Luzhkov criticised Mr Medvedev's decision to suspend building a highway through a forest outside Moscow.

The firing is a sort of epochal event, which may undermine stability in the capital because Luzhkov’s alley will have to handle a system built over two decades.

      The Guardian
      Daily Mail online

Max Yakuba

Tags: Russian politics Luzhkov Kremlin   

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