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.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Sergei L. Loiko re­port­ing from moscow sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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.”

Alexey Sa­zonov

AT ODDS: Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev, left, with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in 2008. The fir­ing could be Medvedev ma­neu­ver­ing for the 2012 pres­i­den­tial race.

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