Top Putin aide confirmed as Moscow mayor

21st October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Moscow's parliament Thursday confirmed a close aide of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as mayor of the Russian capital after the dramatic firing of the flamboyant city strongman Yuri Luzhkov.

The appointment of Sergei Sobyanin was overwhelmingly approved by the local parliament which is dominated by the ruling party United Russia.

But with the debate in the parliament marked by speeches of lavish praise in favour of new mayor and highly choreographed outbreaks of applause, the minority Communists denounced the vote as a pre-ordained farce.

In contrast to his populist predecessor at the helm of the city of 10.5 million, Sobyanin is a low profile-fixer brought up in Siberia and seen as reliably loyal to the ruling elite.

Sobyanin was until now chief of staff to Putin and should present the federal authorities with far fewer problems than Luzhkov, fired by President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this month.

"The city is missing opportunities... its growth pace has started to slow down, Moscow can develop more dynamically and with higher benefit to its inhabitants," Sobyanin told the parliament before the vote.

"The city needs more open and efficient management."

Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin, who gave the keynote speech in support of Sobyanin, said the new mayor "has shown his best qualities as organiser and manager in his posts."

"He has an earned authority of a person who can gradually reach his goals... he is a manager with a high work ethic."

But Andrei Klychkov, a member of the Communist faction, scoffed at the voting procedure: "In reality, Muscovites don't have a choice, everything has been decided behind closed doors."

The mayor of Moscow -- like all other regional governors in Russia -- is nominated by the president and then confirmed by parliament, a system that replaced direct elections in 2004.

Luzhkov, who liked to present himself as the archetypal Muscovite in a flat cap, built up his own powerbase in Moscow, posing a worry for the authorities ahead of 2012 presidential elections.

Sobyanin, 52, has the reputation of a pragmatist and a Putin loyalist. A former governor of the Siberian region of Tyumen, he was unexpectedly summoned to Moscow by Putin in 2005 to head his administration.

Putin recruited Sobyanin to replace his protege Medvedev, who at that time became first deputy prime minister. Sobyanin later stayed on as Putin's chief of staff after Medvedev was elected president in 2008.

Brought up in a small village in the far northern region of Khanty-Mansiysk, Sobyanin has served as a government official for his entire life, after a brief stint as a metal worker.

He began his post-Soviet political career at the age of 33 as mayor of Kogalym, a Siberian town that is strongly tied to Lukoil oil fields nearby.

He also held several parliamentary posts and was the presidential envoy to the Urals before being elected as governor of the key energy-rich Tyumen region in 2001, remaining in the post until summoned to Moscow by Putin.

He was the first Siberian governor to join ruling party United Russia and is one of the party's top officials. He has held the position of deputy prime minister since 2008.

Sobyanin is one of the least public figures in the government, rarely giving interviews. His years working in Siberia also make him an unusual figure in a government dominated by Vladimir Putin's cronies from Saint Petersburg.

Sobyanin heads the board of directors of Channel One, Russia's largest government-controlled television channel. He also headed the board of Russian nuclear fuel producer TVEL for several years.

© 2010 AFP

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