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Medvedev Fires Moscow Mayor For 'Losing President's Trust'


President Dmitry Medvedev (right) and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov in May
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has fired Moscow Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov following a high-stakes political standoff between the Kremlin and the powerful city leader.

Medvedev issued the decree sacking Luzhkov while on a state visit to China.

Speaking to media in Shanghai, the president was blunt about his reasons for removing the long-serving mayor. "It's not just suspension, it's a removal from office. That means that I have fired him. And I've used this wording for the first time," Medvedev said. "There is little to comment on, because the reason is mentioned in the decree itself. The reason is, that I, as the president of the Russian Federation, have lost my trust in Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov as the mayor of Moscow."

Kremlin spokeswoman Natalia Timakova told reporters that Luzhkov, once one of Russia's most influential figures, was now "just a citizen."

Medvedev named First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin, a longtime Luzhkov ally, to serve temporarily as mayor. Timakova said the president is currently preparing list of candidates to serve as Luzhkov's permanent replacement.

Resin announced the decision at the opening of Moscow city government meeting.

"Today it was announced on TV that there is a [presidential] decree about the dismissal of the mayor of Moscow," Resin said. "We haven't received it yet. So Yury Mikhailovich [Luzhkov] asked me to chair the meeting of [Moscow] government today."

Resin has held the first deputy's job since 2001 and has responsibility for the city's construction sector.

Long Run

Luzhkov has been a fixture in the Russian capital for nearly two decades. He has served as Moscow's mayor since 1992 and has long been considered one of the country's most powerful politicians. With his trademark flap hats and gruff manner, he was also one of its most colorful.

His departure comes as Russia prepares for what is widely expected to be a tense political season, with elections to the State Duma scheduled for December 2011 followed by a presidential contest in March 2012. Political control over the capital, which accounts for almost one-quarter of Russia's national economy, is considered crucial in those votes.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left, in an August meeting with Luzhkov) had kept silent as the political furor raged.
The conflict with Luzhkov, which had dragged on for weeks, was also seen as a key test of Medvedev's strength amid widespread speculation that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would seek a return to the presidency in 2012.

Putin -- a Luzhkov ally who is also Medvedev's political mentor and is widely seen as Russia's most powerful politician and true ruler -- has maintained a stony silence throughout the standoff.

Russian national media have focused on a handful of possible successors for Luzhkov, including Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Sobyanin, Nizhny Novgorod Governor Valery Shantsev, and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Speaking to Reuters, Moscow businessman Morif Yovchin said removing Luzhkov was a positive move.

"He was a good mayor, but maybe it's worth changing him," Yovchin said. "Like with any other position, movement is needed."

Latest To Go

For the past year, Medvedev has been seeking to replace long-serving regional leaders, who are nominated by the president and confirmed by provincial legislatures.

In March 2009, he replaced Oryol Governor Yegor Stroyev and Murmansk leader Yury Yevdokimov. Longtime Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel retired in November 2009. Volgograd Governor Nikolai Maksyutka and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev stepped down in January. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov announced his retirement in July.

In most cases, regional leaders marked for replacement have resigned voluntarily, following intensive negotiations with the Kremlin about the terms of their departures and retirements. Luzhkov instead chose to defy Medvedev and attempt to hang on to power, setting off a high-stakes game of brinksmanship.

In an article published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta," the government's official newspaper, Luzhkov criticized the effectiveness of Medvedev's administration and suggested he was a weak leader.

Yury Luzhkov with his billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina
Russian state television then broadcast a series of programs accusing Luzhkov and his wife, Yelena Baturin, of widespread corruption. Baturina was listed by "Forbes" as the world's third-richest businesswoman with assets of $2.9 billion.

Critics have long alleged that Luzhkov ran Moscow like a personal fiefdom, although he and Baturina strenuously deny accusations of wrongdoing.

As the conflict simmered, Luzhkov left for Russia for a vacation in Austria last week. He was widely expected to step down when he returned to Moscow on September 27, but he continued to defiantly insist that he would not willingly leave his job.

'Loss Of Trust'

In firing Luzhkov, Medvedev also issued clear warning to other potentially disobedient officials.

"The law that was adopted a few years ago foresees that losing of president's trust could be one of the reasons [for dismissal]," Medvedev said. "It's hard to imagine in which circumstances the head of the region could work while having no trust of the president as a highest official of the state. That happened for the first time, but I cannot guarantee, that there would not be new cases. It will depend on circumstances."

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who has long sought Luzhkov's ouster, praised Medvedev's decision and called for a corruption investigation against Luzhkov.

"Losing the trust of the president is a very serious accusation," Nemtsov said, adding that precedent suggested an investigation might follow. "Medvedev, in the past, only used this wording when he dismissed the three governors of the Koryak, Nenets, and Amur regions. Two of them were dismissed because of criminal prosecutions against them and one because half of the region was frozen in the winter. So now, if the criminal investigation of multiple corruption cases does not start, then the legitimacy of today's decree could be doubted, and Luzhkov could emerge as an independent political player."

After being fired as mayor, Luzhkov resigned from the ruling United Russia party, Russian news agencies reported.

Luzhkov, 74, was appointed mayor by former President Boris Yeltsin in 1992, shortly after the Soviet collapse. He oversaw a construction boom in the capital that helped transformed Moscow from a drabness and gray Soviet monolith into a vibrant metropolis.

written by Brian Whitmore based on contributions from RFE/RL's Russian Service and wire reporting
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