September 24, 2010 1:19 pm

Way cleared for Moscow mayor’s resignation

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Moscow's Mayor Yuri Luzhkov

Mayor Yuri Luzhkov attends a ceremony to start the construction of a new section of the city underground railway in Moscow earlier this month

A political compromise appears to be in the works to ease the resignation of Moscow’s embattled mayor Yuri Luzhkov as early as next week, and one possibility among many could be the splitting of the mayor’s job into two posts.

Ever since a campaign in the media to oust Mr Luzhkov erupted two weeks ago, seemingly orchestrated by the Kremlin, the question of who would replace the mayor has been the subject of enormous speculation.

Mr Luzhkov, an old warhorse from the era of former President Boris Yeltsin, is one of the most powerful men in the country and his mastery of the Moscow political machine politics has made him a potent political force since he came to power in 1992.

The Kremlin is reluctant to fire Mr Luzhkov, and both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are understood to prefer to see him resign. He has so far insisted that he will see out his term which ends next year.

Matters are likely to come to a head when he arrives back in Moscow on Monday from a week’s vacation in Austria. Mr Luzhkov’s spokesman Sergei Tsoi on Friday denied media reports that Mr Luzhkov would not show up for work next week, saying “he will start his day at 8am Moscow time on Monday”.

On Friday, Vladimir Platonov, the chairman of the Moscow city duma, or legislature, said that according to current legislation it would be possible to split Mr Luzhkov’s job into that of mayor and chairman of the city government. “Moscow legislation permits such a step, there would be no changes required,” he said.

He was speaking in reaction to reports in two Moscow newspapers, Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta, which wrote on Friday that a deal had been agreed with Mr Luzhkov to step down, and that his position would be split between two men.

Sergei Sobyanin, currently head of the government administration and Russia’s top civil servant, would assume the post of mayor, while Valery Shantsev, a former vice mayor under Mr Luzhkov and currently governor of Nizhni Novgorod province, would become the head of the Moscow government, according to both reports. Both jobs are currently done by Mr Luzhkov.

The deal, if it comes off, appears to have been worked out as a compromise between Mr Luzhkov’s interests and those of the Kremlin.

Mr Sobyanin is close to Vladimir Putin, prime minister, but also maintains good relations with President Dmitry Medvedev and is every bit the Kremlin’s man. Mr Shantsev is formerly a key Luzhkov ally who left Moscow for Nizhni Novgorod in 2005 after falling out with other members of Luhkov’s team, according to Vladimir Pribylovsky, who runs the political website www.anticompromat.org.

“This whole matter has been drawn out mainly due to the necessity of finding someone to replace Luzhkov,” said Mr Pribylovsky.

Kommersant on Friday cited anonymous sources saying that Mr Luzhkov’s resignation could take place early next week.

In recent years Mr Luzhkov has been dogged by allegations of corruption, focusing on his wife, who is reportedly Russia’s richest woman, and who made much of her wealth in Moscow real estate. Both deny any connection between her business success and his political position.

Mr Luzhkov said the media storm aimed at him – fuelled mainly by corruption allegations – was brought on by his criticism of Mr Medvedev in a article he published early in September, taking the president to task for halting construction of the key leg of a highway connecting Moscow and St Petersburg.

Mr Luzhkov and his wife announced earlier this month they would sue a number of Kremlin-controlled media outlets after the slew of negative coverage.

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