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Moscow Mayor Defiant Amid Media Onslaught

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov
MOSCOW -- Moscow's embattled Mayor Yury Luzhkov says he does not plan to resign despite a recent surge in media criticism.

Luzhkov told Ren-TV, a private Russian channel, on September 13 that he will not answer attacks against him and will not step down.

He spoke after the press offices of Luzhkov and his wife, real-estate developer Yelena Baturina, announced that they plan to file a suit against Russian state television channels for defamation of character and harming their business reputation.

On September 12, the state run channels First Channel and Russia broadcast a program critical of the Moscow mayor, his wife, and the Moscow city government.

The program claimed that the mayor had given his wife's real estate company preferential treatment and questioned why the mayor left the city during the intense heat and smoke that blanketed Moscow this summer. A similar program was also shown on September 10 on the state-controlled channel NTV.

Some Russian political experts have noted that such a film could only have been aired on state television channels after receiving government approval. Nikolai Petrov, a political scientist at Moscow's Carnegie Institute, says that this kind of "extreme, public political action" shows that there are cracks in the political system.

"This public settling of accounts is unprecedented in [Russian] politics and demonstrates the existence of several different groups in power," Petrov told RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"It also shows the lack of a normal political mechanism that would take into account the multiple sides within the government."

Rumors have surfaced recently that tension is growing between the Moscow mayor and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Among other things, Luzhkov has backed the construction of the St. Petersburg-Moscow highway through Moscow's Khimki forest, while Medvedev has called for construction to be stopped and a reanalysis to be done.

At a conference in Yaroslavl on September 10 Medvedev again disagreed with Luzhkov's position, saying that "officials should either participate in building institutions or join the opposition."

Yelena Baturina, Luzhkov's wife and INTECO President
The head of Moscow's International Institute of Political Expertise, Yevgeny Minchenko, says that after all this media attention, Russia's prosecutor general should verify whether the allegations against Luzhkov are true.

"Within the next one to two months, [Russia's prosecutor-general] should be able to say if there is reasonable cause to enact a criminal case against Luzhkov and Baturina or not," he said.

Petrov tells RFE/RL the recent ousting of regional heads -- President of Bashkortostan Murtaza Rakhimov, who resigned following critical media reports, and the former President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiyev being allowed to name his successor -- delineates the two ways in which Luzhkov may leave his post.

Petrov believes the first variable is more likely, which may lead to a shift in business relationships in Moscow.

"The business dealings and positions that are the foundation of the colossal wealth of the Luzhkov clan are protected by these connections and agreements with elites who will not leave their posts with Luzhkov, but will remain in the government."

Baturina has a net worth of around $2.9 billion, according to "Forbes" magazine, and is the wealthiest woman in Russia.

In the past, the Russian press has accused her and her husband of illegally winning municipal construction contracts.