Lebedev to fight Lugovoy for Sochi mayor
The mayoral election in the Olympic city of Sochi is scheduled for April 26 and applicants are causing turmoil in Russia’s political circles, with figures like Andrey Lugovoy and Aleksandr Lebedev joining the race.
Sochi is a Russian Black Sea resort famous for its mild climate. And though it cannot compete on many levels with Moscow and St. Petersburg, and is not even a regional centre, it's considered by many to be politically important.
Sochi has been chosen to host the 2014 Winter Games – the first sporting event of its kind to be held in the subtropics. Over $12 billion is being invested in sports facilities and improving the city’s infrastructure ahead of the Games.
Sochi faces an early election after previous mayor, Vladimir Afanasenkov, retired in November due to health problems.
Britain's main suspect in the killing of former security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, Andrey Lugovoy wants to be mayor of Sochi.
Litvinenko died of polonium-210 poisoning in November 2006, shortly after meeting Lugovoy. Moscow has repeatedly refused to hand Lugovoy over to UK authorities for trial, saying his extradition is outlawed by the Russian constitution.
The Litvinenko case led to a cooling of relations between Russia and UK, which resulted in the expulsion of diplomats from both sides.
In Russia, Lugovoy has been cleared of all charges.
A former Russian security officer himself, Lugovoy was elected to Russia's State Duma in 2007 as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
He says he has all the qualities required to fill the position of Sochi's mayor.
“I proved my abilities in the military service, in business and I'm doing it in politics, and I may prove myself in management,” Lugovoy says.
Meanwhile, Litvinenko’s widow called for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics if Lugovoy is elected.
In a statement, Marina Litvinenko said “I would personally go from country to country urging people not to go to an event hosted by a murderer,” the AFP news agency reports.
Russian billionaire Aleksandr Lebedev, who literally made headlines in Britain recently after acquiring London’s Evening Standard newspaper, also announced that he will run for Sochi mayor.
He says he has ‘a concrete programme’ for solving the city’s problems in preparing for the Olympics.
Lebedev plans to base his campaign on promises to save about 100 billion roubles (around $3 billion) in getting Sochi ready for the Games.
“I think it’s the love of Russian bureaucracy for spending a lot of money on things which are not necessary. This is what they have been doing for many years,” Lebedev says.
Lebedev will pay about 282,000 roubles (around $8.000) to register as a candidate, as allowed by law, instead of using the other procedure of collecting signatures to get enough backing.
In 2003, Lebedev took part in Moscow’s mayoral election but lost to Yuri Luzhkov, who currently heads the Russian capital.
Lebedev also plans to create a political party together with the final Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, to take part in Russia’s parliamentary elections in 2011.
A harsh critic of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, Boris Nemtsov also wants the job. He now heads the movement Solidarnost (Solidarity) together with ex-chess champion, Garry Kasparov, aiming to unite all government opposition forces in the country.
An experienced politician, Nemtsov used to be Governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region in the early 1990s before moving to Moscow and becoming Deputy Prime Minister under President Boris Yeltsin.
Nemtsov was born in Sochi in 1959 and says he's the one who understands the needs of the local community.
“Sochi people believe that I have enough responsibility and enough strength to remove corrupted people from the city and to give people a chance to move forward and be successful,” Nemtsov says.
The other candidates to run for mayor of Sochi are: Communist Yury Dzaganiya; the President of Arm Wrestling Federation movement Stanislav Koretsky; military pensioner Sergey Bernasovsky, and the boss of Russia’s ERLEN Airlines, Nikolay Kuznetsov.
Russian ballerina Anastasiya Volochkova was also linked with the election, but decided not to go into politics, saying she’s busy with charity work.
The last day to file applications to take part in the race is March 26.
Sochi's current acting mayor Anatoly Pakhomov says he wants to continue with his current work if he wins the sympathy of voters.
For now, he's concentrating on cleaning up the city and improving the resort's ageing infrastructure.
“Sochi must become cleaner, more comfortable and affordable for the Russians coming there to relax,” Pakhomov says.