Moscow’s mayor fired by president
Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev dismisses Yuri Luzhkov in a move analysts say exposes a battle for power inside the Kremlin.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired Moscow’s popular mayor on Tuesday, three weeks into a high-level public spat that analysts said exposed a battle for power inside the Kremlin.
Medvedev, who is on a state visit to China, issued a decree stripping Yuri Luzhkov of the job he has held since 1992 on the grounds that he had lost the trust of the president.
The mayor rebuilt the city, improved its roads, increased subsidies for the disabled and pensions for the elderly. He won election three times by wide margins. But during his term in office, his wife also became the richest woman in Russia, with an estimated worth of $2.9 billion.
Three main television channels controlled by the Kremlin launched a campaign this month against the 74-year-old Luzhkov this month, accusing him of corruption, neglecting his duties and abusing his office. They alleged that his wife, Yelena Baturina, benefited from city contracts awarded on preferential terms.
Changes in Russia’s constitution in 2004 allowed the president to fire regional leaders such as Luzhkov. But analysts said from the outset that the media campaign against him was less about his management of Russia’s capital than a battle for power in the Kremlin.
Political observers said Moscow, with a powerful mayor capable of delivering its 7.5 million votes, had become the first battleground in the struggle for the 2012 presidential election.
Medvedev, a protege of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, became president in 2008 when Putin was forced from office by term limits. Putin is still considered by most analysts to be Russia’s most powerful figure, though they have long predicted that Medvedev will try to supplant him. Indications are that both men want to run for president in 2012.
Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who is locked in a libel case with Luzhkov over a book he co-wrote alleging corruption by the mayor, said the firing was “Medvedev’s first really presidential decision.”
“But the sacking of the mayor doesn’t yet mean an honest fight against corruption; it is rather a manifestation of a serious clash in the fight for power between Medvedev and Putin.”
Putin has largely been silent about the campaign against Luzhkov.
Nemtsov said the firing exposes fissures in the governing party, of which Luzhkov is a co-founder. Other analysts said the mayor had proved useful and loyal to Putin in the past.
Luzhkov returned Monday from a vacation in Austria declaring that he would not resign.
After he was forced out, the Interfax news agency said he quit the United Russia party.
“The longer the impasse remained unresolved, the more damage it dealt to Medvedev’s image,” Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst, said in an interview. “But today’s decision marked the beginning of Medvedev’s own campaign for the next presidency and portrayed him emerging as the main leader of the country. Putin’s prolonged inaction is not playing in his favor anymore.”
Natalia Timakova, the president’s spokeswoman, implied in comments to reporters in Beijing that Luzhkov was given a chance to retire or face the Kremlin’s anger. “Draw your own conclusions,” she said.
Boris Gryzlov, a party leader and speaker of the lower house of parliament, blamed Luzhkov for his own fall.
“We assume the president did this for a good reason,” Gryzlov said in remarks on the Russia 24 television channel. “Unfortunately, Luzhkov as mayor created grounds for such a decision by the president.”
Medvedev appointed Luzhkov’s longtime deputy, Vladimir Resin, as his temporary replacement.
“Resin knows the situation and the team well,” Medvedev was quoted by Interfax as telling reporters Tuesday in Shanghai. “I don’t doubt that he will manage to maintain normal and effective control.”
According to the constitution, the governing party will nominate three candidates to be Luzhkov’s permanent replacement, and Medvedev will choose one. Experts say the real decision will be made in the Kremlin by factions loyal to Medvedev and Putin, either as a compromise or after a fight.
“With this resolute move, Medvedev has seriously shifted the balance of power in his favor, but it is not yet clear what Putin’s response will be,” said Mikhail Delyagin, chairman of the Institute for Globalization Studies, a Moscow-based think tank. “Soon enough we will find out who comes first in the race.”
AT ODDS: President Dmitry Medvedev, left, with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in 2008. The firing could be Medvedev maneuvering for the 2012 presidential race.