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Another Tandem In Moscow?

President Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with Sergei Sobyanin in September 2009.
President Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with Sergei Sobyanin in September 2009.
The leadership of United Russia met on Saturday at President Dmitry Medvedev's residence at Gorki to finalize its list of candidates for Moscow Mayor and to get the Kremlin leader's final approval. That meeting followed "consultations" with deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov on Friday and with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on October 1.

After the Gorki meeting, Medvedev met personally with each of the four candidates -- Deputy Premier Sergei Sobyanin, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin, Nizhny Novgorod Governor Valery Shantsev, and acting Senior Deputy Moscow Mayor Lyubov Shvetsova.

Putin -- who would have to sign off on any decision -- was kept very closely in the loop throughout the whole process. A report published on Monday, "Vedomosti" cited an unidentified Kremlin official as saying that the "complicated procedures" surrounding the selection of a new Moscow mayor were due to "fears within the national leadership that promotion of this or that federal official would ruin parity within the tandem."

That, I think, is a bit of a smokescreen. As I have blogged here, there was no split in the tandem over the decision to sack Yury Luzhkov. While Putin is more cautious on personnel policy than Medvedev, he was clearly on board with the decision. It would not have happened without his approval.

No. The real reason for the complicated procedures and clandestine meetings is that the inner sanctum of the Russian elite knows all too well that it must -- absolutely must -- get this decision right. Luzhkov sat atop a massive and intricate political-financial machine in the capital and getting the transition wrong after such a contentious battle with the outgoing mayor could be a prescription for clan warfare and chaos.

Medvedev has promised a decision "in the nearest future" and a consensus is emerging among Moscow's chattering classes that Sobyanin is likely to get the nod.

"There is a feeling that the list was compiled under Sobyanin," Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Expertise, told "The list has two representatives of the local team, which is a nod to tradition, and one minister, who is unlikely to seriously apply for this position."

Sobyanin indeed appears to have all the boxes checked. He has administrative experience, serving as mayor of the Siberian city of Kogalym from 1991-93 and governor of the Tyumen Oblast from 2001-05. He is trusted by both Putin and Medvedev. serving as the former's Kremlin chief of staff and as head of the latter's 2008 presidential campaign. He also served as the deputy chairman of Medvedev's modernization commission.

Moreover, as Minchenko points out, the Moscow bureaucracy is comfortable with him.

Some analysts insist that Shantsev, a former deputy Moscow mayor who is considered one of Russia's most effective regional leaders, is still in the running. Early in the process -- before Luzhkov was removed but when it was clear he was on his way out -- the idea of a Sobyanin-Shantsev "tandem" was floated in the Russian media. Under that plan, Sobyanin would be mayor and Shantsev would be an executive deputy mayor, a sort of premier/city manager.

Speaking to Interfax, Dmitry Orlov, director of the Agency of Political and Economic Communications, says the idea is very much alive as decision time approaches:

Whereas earlier a Moscow ruling tandem was discussed as a possible alternative, now it is clear from the list submitted to the president that this is not just a working idea, but one that is shifting into a practical territory. Sobyanin by definition could not be recommended for the role of a background actor. Shantsev is also a strong candidate, given his managerial experience. But Sobyanin has more of a chance of becoming a mayor. So I think in the future we will be able to see a tandem in which Sobyanin is a mayor and Shantsev is a Moscow premier.

It must look like an attractive combination from the Kremlin's perspective. Sobyanin could play the public role of the "political mayor" while the effective manager Shantsev would make the trains run on time. And as "Vedomosti" points out, he could also play the role of the heavy when the inevitable house cleaning of Luzhkov dead-enders and scapegoats commences in earnest.

"Shantsev has been with the Moscow municipal administration, knows all the ins and outs, and could be relied on not to launch any wars for rearrangement of forces and assets," the daily wrote.

It is unclear whether Shantsev would want to give up being top dog in Nizhny Novgorod to become the junior partner in a Moscow city tandem? And it is unclear whether the Medvedev-Putin brain trust would want to risk dividing power in Moscow (not to mention replacing Shantsev in Nizhny Novgorod).

We'll find out soon enough.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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