Embattled Moscow mayor on vacation as prospects unclear
The embattled Moscow mayor, the target of an unprecedented smear campaign, is on vacation in Austria, a spokesman said on Monday, amid frenzied speculation that he could soon lose one of the country's highest-profile jobs.
Yury Luzhkov, who has run the city of 12 million for the past 18 years, appears to have fallen out of favour with the Kremlin and has become the victim of an all-out media war for his alleged attempts to drive a wedge between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the run-up to 2012 polls.
"Every year he goes to Austria to celebrate his birthday," a spokesman for the Moscow government told AFP.
The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Luzhkov, who turns 74 on Tuesday, had left the country Sunday and was expected back in the Russian capital next week.
A report in newspaper Kommersant said on Monday that Luzhkov had left for Austria following his talks with Kremlin officials on Friday.
"A meeting with senior officials of the presidential administraiton lasted for a long time," a Kremlin administration source told the newspaper.
Luzhkov's vacation does not mean that the "issue has resolved itself" and he is taking time out from his job to consider details of his departure, the newspaper report said.
Russia's state-controlled television channels earlier this month aired prime-time documentaries about Luzhkov, criticising his track record including his failure to tackle Moscow's bumper-to-bumper-traffic, and business activities of his wife, Yelena Baturina.
Both Luzhkov, who has described the campaign as "mud-raking" in order to put pressure on him, and Baturina said they would sue the channels.
Luzhkov, whose latest term runs out next year, has refused to step down early.
Medvedev has talked of a need to recruit a new generation of political leaders and Russian television aired an expose of the leader of oil-rich Bashkortostan region, Murtaza Rakhimov, just days before he stepped down.
Putin, widely believed to be a key supporter of the mayor, has not publicly weighed in on the issue so far.
© 2010 AFP