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Kremlin Eyes Moscow Mayoral Candidates

Former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov gets in his car in front of the mayor's office, Moscow
Former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov gets in his car in front of the mayor's office, Moscow
MOSCOW -- The Kremlin may appoint one of its own top officials to replace ousted Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, according to a Russian newspaper.

President Dmitry Medvedev fired the iconoclastic city chief on September 28. The move followed an unprecedented public fight in which state media accused Luzhkov of destroying historic buildings and channeling lucrative city contracts to his billionaire wife's construction company.

Vladimir Kozhin, who heads the Presidential Affairs Office, has emerged as Luzhkov's most-likely successor, according to the newspaper "Sobesednik," which quoted an unnamed Kremlin source.

The source identified other potential candidates, including Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, government chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin, and North Caucasus Federal District presidential envoy Aleksandr Khloponin.

Mikhail Tulsky of the Political Analysis Center told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Kozhin would be a likely candidate because his job managing Kremlin property has given him experience in city affairs.

"It's not clear if he'll be up to the job," he said, "but no one would be fully adequate -- every candidate has one or another problem."

Luzhkov, who ruled Moscow with an iron fist since taking office in 1992, oversaw the capital's transformation into a glitzy, oil-fuelled boomtown. He is the last in a series of once-powerful regional leaders elected under former President Boris Yeltsin to be fired by Medvedev.

Then-President Vladimir Putin, who is now prime minister, scrapped the election of regional leaders in favor of Kremlin appointments in 2005.

It's not clear when a decision on the new mayor will be made.

Putin, whom most Russians believe remains the country's "supreme leader," is expected to meet with members of his United Russia Party today to discuss Luzhkov's replacement.

The party, which holds a majority in the city legislature as well as the country's parliament, has two weeks to submit a list of candidates to Medvedev, who will then select one for the post.

In the first step of a looming shakeup of the city administration, acting Mayor Vladimir Resin, Luzhkov's longtime close associate, has fired several top officials and added "acting" to the titles of around 250 officials.

Investigators said at least one official, former Deputy Mayor Aleksandr Ryabinin, who has resigned, would be charged with accepting bribes. Ryabinin oversaw the city's lucrative construction industry.

Luzhkov today returned to his office in city hall for the fourth straight day since being fired, reportedly to collect possessions that include many gifts.

He hasn't said what his plans are, but speculation is rife. Analysts say his opposition to Medvedev rules him out of top-level politics.

But residents of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol -- which houses the Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet -- have suggested he become mayor there. Luzhkov has long championed Russian control over the city, an issue that has soured relations with Ukraine.