Top Putin aide to be confirmed as Moscow mayor
Moscow's parliament Thursday was to confirm 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 local parliament -- dominated by the ruling party United Russia -- was due to appoint Sergei Sobyanin as the new mayor after his nomination by President Dmitry Medvedev at a session starting at 0800 GMT.
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 Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and should present the federal authorities with far fewer problems than Luzhkov, fired by Medvedev earlier this month.
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.
Having a mayor who has never known any electoral support will be a new experience for Muscovites. Although Luzhkov was appointed for his last term, his legacy as a popularly elected official was still strong.
"He has a harsh, difficult character and no ideas of his own," Russian Newsweek magazine wrote this week, quoting a government official, "A great apparatchik. A functionary," polar opposite of eccentric Moscow patriarch Luzhkov.
In a 2000 interview with Argumenty i Fakty newspaper, Sobyanin said he was descended from peasants who lived in the city of Nizhny Novgorod in northwestern Russia and from Cossacks in the Ural region.
In the same interview, he boasted of a love of hunting and outdoor pursuits.
"I could ski before I took the first step. And I went hunting in the taiga with a double-barreled gun when I was a 15-year-old," he said.
"Sometimes you need to remove emotional pressure by being in extreme situations together with nature."
Sobyanin's love of the wilderness gives him something in common with Putin, who spent this summer in macho encounters with wild animals including a bear and a whale in the far eastern Kamchatka peninsula.
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