Criticism of Mayor Luzhkov's intensifies as ridicule builds

Criticism of Mayor Luzhkov's intensifies as ridicule builds

20th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Mayor Yury Luzhkov receives mounting criticism as recent actions are questioned and scrutinised in eyes of media, Moscow citizens and the Kremlin.

Moscow -- Moscow's strongman mayor, who came to power 18 years ago when Vladimir Putin was still an obscure official, is finally under mounting pressure to quit but showing no sign of leaving his post willingly.

Criticism of Yury Luzhkov, who turns 74 this month, intensified after the bee-keeping mayor boldly ignored President Dmitry Medvedev's desire to freshen up the ranks of local leaders, angering the Kremlin.

Unhappiness with Luzhkov reached boiling point this month as the Kremlin snapped at the Moscow mayor's apparent attempts to sow discord in the ruling tandem of Medvedev and his mentor Prime Minister Putin.

"Moscow's authorities have gone too far in their attempts to create a clash between the president and the prime minister," a source in the Kremlin told Interfax. "These attempts will not be left without proper reaction."

The comment followed several controversial articles in pro-Luzhkov Moskovsky Komsomolets daily and the mayor's annoyance with the Kremlin's criticism of his vacation during a critical heatwave that caused a health crisis in the capital.

While Putin showed support, "I got a kick from the other side, the (presidential) administration," Luzhkov said last week on a Moscow-owned channel. "I came back as soon as I had the chance."

Russian special police officers arrest an opposition supporter during the "Day of Anger" protest rally against Mayor Yury Luzhkov in central Moscow this month.

Earning the nickname Kepka, or "flat cap" for his customary headwear, Luzhkov has ruled over the Russian capital since the 1992 appointment to the post by Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin.

The Kremlin has seen two administrations change as the City Hall, just a kilometre away from the Kremlin's walls, had its power propelled by Russia's economic growth.

Corporate taxes from firms headquartered in the capital padded Moscow city budget to a whopping USD 32 billion in 2009.

The aging mayor has earned his share of ridicule for eclectic hobbies such as bee-keeping, authoring books on river re-direction, and inventing dozens of devices like water desalinators and lasers to shoot down icicles.

Hailing from a different political clan than Putin or Medvedev, who are both from Saint Petersburg, Luzhkov is also enveloped by allegations of corrupt deals profiting his family. He has always denied any wrongdoing.

The federal authorities have however tolerated him -- until now.

On Friday, national channel NTV, which is owned by state gas monopoly Gazprom, showed a prime-time special The Affair of the Flat Cap in an unprecedented mass media expose of Luzhkov.

"Why was the mayor rescuing his bees while Muscovites choked in the smoke," a voice dramatically asks as people wearing medical masks are shown wandering through the haze with the Kremlin's shadow in the background.

The documentary also issued a litany of allegations against his billionaire wife Yelena Baturina.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov speak as they inspect the site of the March suicide blast at the Lubyanka metro station in Moscow.

Critics have long accused the mayor of illegally favoring the 47-year old Baturina's construction company Inteko. Baturina's USD 2.9 billion wealth makes her the world's third richest businesswoman, according to Forbes magazine.

After the dethroning of other veteran regional leaders in Russia, the "noose is tightening" on Luzhkov, said Alexei Panin, an analyst with the Centre of Political Information thinktank.

"Luzhkov and his team hold most of the economic levers in Moscow; he has things to lose," Panin said. "But [he and the Kremlin] are likely to reach an agreement before the end of the year since the situation is nearing a dead end."

Medvedev has dropped ample hints for aging governors to resign, with the chief Kremlin ideologue Vladislav Surkov saying last week that governors cannot be older than 70.

The mayor waved off rumours of his dismissal.

"Conflict? I don't see it," he told Interfax, denying that he will step down before his term ends in 2011.

Maria Antonova / AFP / Expatica

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