ROAR: United Russia wants Moscow’s mayor to remain in office

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov’s “epoch” is approaching its end, media say, but the ruling United Russia party is ready to throw its support behind him.

Luzhkov is considered the most powerful among Russian regional heads. His tenure has always been accompanied by rumors of possible resignation. After the celebrations of the 65th anniversary of WWII, media and analysts started commenting on a report prepared by the Agency of Political and Economic Communications about the mayor’s prospects of remaining in office.

The report, called “Changing political power in Moscow: factors and scenarios” predicts that Luzhkov may leave his post before his term of office expires, Vedomosti daily said. The Kremlin has been choosing a replacement for him, the paper wrote, citing its sources.

The authors of the report have made their conclusions based on conversations with officials, and businessmen, the agency’s general director Dmitry Orlov told the paper. According to him, four main scenarios of the possible development exist.

Among them is the non-confidence vote in the Moscow City Duma and the mayor’s early voluntary resignation connected with taking over another post. The first scenario is less likable, the authors believe, because it threatens to destabilize the political situation in the city.

Observers also doubt the likelihood of this scenario as Luzhkov enjoys the absolute support of the Moscow City Duma, 32 deputies of which represent United Russia and only three are from the opposing Communist Party. Luzhkov is also the co-chairman of United Russia’s supreme council.

“Another job” for him listed as a separate scenario means that Luzhkov may even head the construction of facilities in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. And the last scenario does not rule out that the mayor may work till the end of his term in 2011.

Then there are also four scenarios of appointing Luzhkov’s successor, the paper said. Among the “candidates” are: a man close to the present mayor but not acceptable for the Kremlin; a figure acting as a compromise; someone who is loyal to the federal center but not connected with Moscow’s groups of influence; or a man who is new in the city but accepted by the mayor’s team.

The last variant is the most likely, Orlov believes. In this case, the current team will remain in power for some time. Luzhkov may become an advisor for the president and the mayor’s successor, and even head the ruling party’s list during the parliamentary elections in 2011, the report said.

Luzhkov will most likely resign by the end of this year, Igor Lebedev, head of the faction of the Liberal Democratic Party in the State Duma, told the paper. He believes such a development is a sure thing.

Andrey Metelsky, head of the United Russia’s faction in the Moscow City Duma, disagrees: “Authors of such forecasts cannot assess a political situation correctly and try to do the president’s and mayor’s work, each of whom can make a necessary decision,” he told the daily.

The agreements between the mayor’s team and the country’s leadership seemed to have been reached, but scandals around Moscow’s general plan of the city’s development and public discussions over Stalin’s posters on the eve of the Victory Day celebrations provoked rumors that the bargaining is still under way, the paper noted.

There have been several eruptions of rumors about the possible resignation of the mayor who has been occupying the post since 1992. Previously they were prompted by criticism from the Liberal Democratic Party’s leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

During the discussion over the prime minister’s address to the parliament, Zhirinovsky called for the dismissal of Luzhkov on April 20. Deputies from United Russia accused Zhirinovsky of rudeness and speaking in an incorrect tone.

After the mayor appealed against Zhirinovsky’s statements, the court ruled that the Liberal Democratic Party’s leader had to pay one million roubles (approximately $33,000) for calling him “a source of corruption” and “an obstacle in Russia’s development.”

Earlier, Luzhkov won another defamation lawsuit against Boris Nemtsov, the co-chairman of the opposition group Solidarity after the publication of his report “Luzhkov. Conclusions.”

The Moscow mayor has a lot of critics who, among other things, never fail to comment on his wife Elena Baturina, as she happens to be both a leading construction and real estate magnate, and Russia’s only female billionaire.

Many opposed the new draft general plan of the city’s development, which was adopted by the city’s parliament on May 5. Some opponents called the plan “harmful” to the city, stressing it infringes on the people’s rights.

Luzhkov described the plan as a “detailed document that had been thoroughly developed.” However, the plan may be amended to some extent “if reasonable changes” are proposed, the mayor said, speaking on the TV Center channel on May 11. Some opponents used the plan to undermine the Moscow authorities, and they are rather guided by political ambitions, the mayor said.

The campaign against him started back in 1992, Luzhkov said earlier. Over the course of 17 years, opponents “have been trying to move me up or sideways or down,” he noted.

The mayor has several times been “unofficially reprimanded” by the federal authorities for his statements regarding foreign policy – including the Kuril islands, Sevastopol and Russian-Ukrainian relations – told Aleksey Mukhin, director general of the Center for Political Information, to website.

Meanwhile, Luzhkov has strong support from the State Duma speaker and chairman of United Russia’s supreme committee Boris Gryzlov. “The party has not put forward any initiatives concerning Luzhkov’s resignation,” he said.

“I have heard about the possible resignation of Yury Luzhkov from the mass media, but nothing more,” the speaker said. He added that the issues regarding the Moscow mayor, who is the co-chairman of United Russia, “should be discussed with the party.”

“Muscovites are assessing the work of their mayor,” Gryzlov said, adding that he has not heard about “any desire from them” to dismiss Luzhkov. “On the contrary, they are wishing him to remain in his position as long as possible,” he noted.

The key factor of Luzhkov’s policies was the policies of “social paternalism,” Vedomosti said. “Huge financial resources allowed the mayor’s office to pay benefits to pensioners, teachers, doctors and policemen even in the 1990s,” it said. “Unlike those living in other cities, Muscovites have seen the results of the authorities’ work, including new metro stations, roads, and relative cleanliness in the center of the city.”

“Grateful for the benefits, many Muscovites have refused to discuss the propriety of the use of the city’s property and the activities of developers,” the daily said. According to polls, more than half of the Muscovites surveyed want Luzhkov to keep his position, it added. If he is still to be replaced, a man from his team should replace him, the respondents say.

Dmitry Orlov believes, however, that most likely the mayor will be replaced by a man from the federal center. “Undoubtedly, this variant will require dialogue between the federal and the city’s authorities,” radio quoted him as saying. In this case, the change of the head of the Russian capital will not entail any political conflicts, Orlov stressed.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review