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TV Documentary Targets Moscow Mayor

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov (left) looks on as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin faces the media in August.
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov (left) looks on as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin faces the media in August.
Yury Luzhkov, Moscow's increasingly embattled mayor, suffered a major political blow this week when a nationally televised report accused him of embezzling public funds and neglecting his duties.

The prime-time documentary film, broadcast by state-controlled Russian television channel NTV on September 10, was an unprecedented media attack on the powerful Luzhkov.

It fueled speculation that the mayor, who has ruled the Russian capital since 1992, might be forced to quit before his current term expires in June.

Titled "The Cap Affair," after Luzhkov's habit of wearing a flat cap, the film accused Luzhkov and his wife, businesswoman Yelena Baturina, of large-scale corruption.

Critics have long accused Luzhkov of illegally helping award lucrative tenders to Baturina's construction company, Inteko. "Forbes" magazine ranks Baturina as the world's third-richest businesswoman, with a fortune estimated at $2.9 billion.

The film also slammed Luzhkov for staying out of Moscow in the worst days of this summer's heat wave, when toxic smoke from peat fires choked Moscow.

"What was Luzhkov's first move when he returned to Moscow's smog from abroad?" the documentary asked. "To whom did he lend a helping hand? How he allocated 105 million [rubles] to invalids and 256 million to bees."

Critics have mocked the 73-year-old for his unconventional hobbies, which include beekeeping.

Behind The Scenes

Luzhkov is seen as close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin but seems increasingly at odds with President Dmitry Medvedev.

He wrote in an article this week that the mood in Russian society was "difficult" and criticized the president's decision to suspend a controversial highway project.

Medvedev publicly scolded Luzhkov on September 10 during an international conference of political analysts attended by the Moscow mayor, saying that "officials should either participate in building institutions or join the opposition."

Following Luzhkov's article, a Kremlin source told Russian news agencies that unnamed Moscow officials were seeking to drive a wedge between Medvedev and Putin and that such behavior would not go unpunished.

Chief Kremlin ideologue Vladislav Surkov appeared to join in the attack on Luzhkov, saying last week that regional leaders should not be older than 70.

No Pushover

Russian political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov says recent events point to a real division between Putin and Medvedev when it comes to Moscow's strongman mayor.

"Some people believe that Yury Luzhkov has become the object -- or the hostage -- of disagreements between the president's administration and the government about what is happening in Moscow. At any rate, Luzhkov has not refuted this theory and seems ready to appeal to Putin for possible support."

Luzhkov, however, is showing no sign of leaving his post willingly.

Asked by reporters on September 10 whether he would serve out his term, Luzhkov said he "had no reason to think otherwise" and dismissed suggestions of a confrontation with the Kremlin.

written by Claire Bigg based on RFE/RL's Russian Service and agency reports
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