New Moscow mayor: low-profile fixer from Siberia

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In contrast to his populist predecessor, Yury Luzhhkov, the man set to be Moscow's new mayor is a low profile-fixer brought up in Siberia and seen as reliably loyal to the ruling elite.

Sergei Sobyanin was until now chief of staff to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and should present the federal authorities with far fewer problems than Luzhkov who was fired by President Dmitry 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.

Of Medvedev's shortlist of four mayoral candidates, Sobyanin is the youngest and has the least connection with Moscow's vast populace of 10.5 million, since he has spent just five years living in the capital.

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.

He 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.

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

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