Moscow mayor's wife links attacks to 2012 presidential vote
The billionaire wife of the Moscow mayor said in an interview on Monday that the Kremlin was putting her husband under unprecedented pressure to shore up President Dmitry Medvedev's position in the runup to 2012 polls.
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 target of all-out media criticism.
The mayor, whose latest term ends next year, has refused to step down. He is currently on vacation is Austria where he will celebrate his 74th birthday on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Moscow government said.
Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, said Kremlin officials wanted to unseat Luzhkov, who is believed to enjoy Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's support, because they were not sure whose side the mayor will take as Russia is heading for presidential polls in 2012.
"We sort of have two candidates right now," Baturina said in a rare interview with the country's top opposition magazine, The New Times.
"And there are people in the presidential administration who fear that the mayor can take the side of Putin and not Medvedev as the elections approach."
Neither Putin nor Medvedev has ruled out standing in the polls but they have said they would agree who would run so as not to compete with each other.
"I think everything has been done for one man -- the president," Baturina said via videolink from Austria, referring to a media war the country's state-controlled television channels unleashed against the mayor this month.
A political heavyweight, Luzhkov helped create what is now the country's ruling United Russia party and has for years guaranteed a majority for it in the city. Putin has not publicly weighed in on the issue so far.
Baturina, who is Russia's richest woman according to Forbes, said it was puzzling that the ruling tandem had so far kept quiet.
"I do not understand why the two supreme leaders of the country pretend nothing is happening," she said.
Analysts have said the smear campaign is a punishment for Luzhkov for his alleged attempts to drive a wedge between Medvedev and Putin.
Waxing lyrical, the 47-year-old Baturina said the mayor would weather the political crisis despite the unprecedented pressure.
"We have such a family that whatever happens, we will all be together," she said. "There are maybe just dozens of people in the world who know what love is...I have found this happiness in my life thank God."
Luzhkov had left the country Sunday and was expected back in the Russian capital next week, the Moscow government spokesman said.
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 administration 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 said.
© 2010 AFP