Yury Luzhkov is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.
As corruption probes mount against the former Moscow mayor, Luzhkov accused his enemies of initiating a campaign of "political bullying" against him -- and vowed to resist.
"I will stay in Moscow and fight for my honor and name," Luzhkov said. He made those comments from Salzburg, Austria in a telephone interview with the Britain's "Financial Times
Days earlier, news reports emerged
that Luzhkov had applied for a British visa, ostensibly to visit his children who are studying there.
And last month, Latvia rejected
for a residency permit, citing the hostile comments he made about that country in the past. (Famously nationalistic, Luzhkov has described Riga's policy toward its Russian minority as "genocide.") Latvian officials say Luzhkov is on a blacklist of people banned from even entering the country.
Luzhkov's visa and residency permit hunting has naturally sparked chatter that he was preparing to emigrate, following the lead of other former insiders who fell out of favor with the Kremlin.
Despite the ex-mayor's strenuous denials that this is not the case, these are nevertheless nervous times for the man who once ruled Russia's glitzy capital like a feudal lord.
Sergei Stepashin, chairman of Russia’s Audit Chamber, says his investigators have uncovered financial violations in Luzhkov's City Hall totaling 230 billion rubles ($7.8 billion) in 2009 and 2010 alone.
Sergei Sobyanin, the man President Dmitry Medvedev appointed
as Moscow's new mayor after firing Luzhkov
last autumn, says he plans to review 100,000 contracts concluded by his predecessor's administration.
"There is a second information campaign against Luzhkov, comparable in scale to the one that led to his resignation in September 2010," the Russian daily "Vedomosti
" wrote today.
Of course, the fact that corruption was endemic throughout much of Luzhkov's rule should surprise nobody.
"Considering all the impropriety and kickbacks, it would be easier for me to tell you the places where there wasn't any corruption. In public transportation, the metro, road construction, the abuses were enormous," Dmitry Katayev, a former member of the Moscow City Duma told RFE/RL's Russian Service
in an interview today.
But as long as Luzhkov was politically useful, Katayev said the Kremlin turned a blind eye:
"The federal government's protection of Luzhkov was due to political considerations," Katayev said. "Every crow in Moscow was squawking about the corruption. The fact that Luzhkov was eventually removed was not directly due to pressure from the opposition. But the opposition obviously played a role.
Indeed, the opposition's longstanding allegations against Luzhkov, who denies any wrongdoing, became relevant when the authorities decided they wanted to get rid of him. Before that they were ignored.
But of course we've seen this movie before. The Kremlin uses corruption as a means of controlling the elite -- letting it slide as long as one is useful and sufficiently deferent to the regime, all the while compiling a dossier that can be opened up at any time.
Today it is Luzhkov's turn to get thrown under the bus. Sooner or later, it will be somebody else's turn as well.
-- Brian Whitmore