KREMLIN FIRES MOSCOW MAYOR AFTER 18 YEARS
“NO GARBAGE PILE UP IN MOSCOW, BUT MAYOR IS FIRED”
MOSCOW – WANTED SA lawyer informed us this morning that the President of Russia fired Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov on early this morning, ending the 18-year reign of a man who gave the crumbling capital a glamorous facelift, but was maligned for his bellicose posturing and staying on vacation while forest fires choked his city.
President Dimitry Medvedev signed the decree relieving the 74-year-old mayor of his duties due to a "loss of confidence" in him, according to the bona fide reports from the Kremlin. With the long-awaited move, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Medvedev sent a powerful signal that no regional leader is indispensable.
“In Panama garbage is piling up and the Mayor struts around without a care in the world; however, sources in Panama assert that there is no garbage pile up in the neighbourhood where the Mayor lives or at his home.”
Speculation over the future of the cap-wearing mayor had swirled in recent days, forcing him to declare Monday that he wouldn't quit — an option that Medvedev’s publicist said that the Kremlin had offered to him.
"It's hard to imagine a situation in which (Luzhkov) and the president of Russia ... continue to work together when the president has lost confidence in the regional leader,"
Medvedev said in Shanghai, where he was on an official visit.
There was no immediate reaction Tuesday from either Luzhkov or Putin.
For years Mr. Luzhkov has remained despite rumors that his days are numbered, with many attributing his sticking power to his ability to deliver the Moscow vote for Putin's United Russia party, which he helped create. Firing him now gives the Kremlin time to appoint a successor who can also guarantee loyalty before the 2011 parliamentary elections and the 2012 presidential vote.
Mr. Luzhkov, meanwhile, leaves a considerable legacy.
The stocky former chemical engineering plant manager ran the city of 12 million people with the aggressive vigor of a tough foreman. His efforts to exert absolute control went so far as announcing plans to seed snow clouds outside Moscow so they wouldn't dump snow on the city.
Under Mr. Luzhkov's long tenure, Moscow underwent an astonishing makeover from a shabby and demoralized city into a swaggering and stylish metropolis. As the prices for Russia's oil and gas soared and foreign investment poured into the vastly underdeveloped country, Russia's capital sprouted gigantic construction projects — malls, offices and soaring apartment towers.
Much of that work was done by the construction company headed by Mr. Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, who is believed to be Russia's only female dollar billionaire. Suspicions swirled consistently that corruption by Mr. Luzhkov fed his wife's wealth.
Mr. Luzhkov's star began falling sharply in July when an ill-conceived repair project on the main highway to Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport created backups that left drivers taking up to six hours to get there from the city. The airport's director accused Luzhkov of manipulating the project to encourage travelers to opt for a city-owned airport. National carrier Aeroflot sued the city for nearly $4 million it claimed was lost due to the traffic jams.
Anger against the mayor then soared when he stayed on vacation in Europe in August even as Moscow suffered through weeks of heavy, suffocating smog from nearby forest and peat-bog fires. Austria is a perfect place to holiday when Moscow is suffering.
But the final blow apparently was a spat not even on Luzhkov's turf. Controversy had brewed for several years about plans to build a highway through a forest just outside of Moscow that environmentalists wanted to protect. President Medvedev in August ordered the project suspended, a decision that Mr. Luzhkov openly criticized in a newspaper article.
President Medvedev publicly dressed him down, telling a conference of political analysts Friday that "officials should either participate in building institutions, or should join the opposition."
While many Muscovites have watched their city's feverish changes with pride, Luzhkov was despised by preservationists for his administration's penchant to bulldoze historic buildings that sat on potentially valuable land. In some cases, including the iconic Moskva Hotel, the buildings were demolished only to be replaced by structures resembling the old ones — making pieces of the city into clumsy replicas of itself.
He also inflicted a tacky aura on the city by promoting the gargantuan works of sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, including a 370-foot (94-meter) statue of Peter the Great in the Moscow River that ranks in some surveys as one of the world's ugliest structures.
Although he did not hold national office, Luzhkov occasionally inserted himself into the country's affairs, aggressively pushing nationalist goals that urged Russia to regain its empire. In 2008, Ukraine banned him from entering after he suggested the Crimean Peninsula rightfully belongs to Russia, not Ukraine.
Luzhkov also appalled human rights activists by his frequent denunciation of gay rights activists — at one point calling them "satanic" — and vehemently blocking their attempts to rally. For this year's observance of the end of World War II in Europe, he wanted to allow billboards portraying Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, but the initiative met strong resistance from the Kremlin.
His bullying ways and reactionary stances had seemed in concert with the tough-guy style of Putin's presidency and Putin tolerated him, although the two were widely believed to dislike each other. However, Luzhkov's demeanor contrasted with Presidnet Medvedev's hesitant reform moves, and speculation about his imminent departure soared.
On the streets this morning in Moscow the mood was mixed, with many accusing Luzhkov of abusing his position to get rich and some appreciating the changes in the capital.
"Of course, he is a rich man, and his wife is even richer, and, of course, they did take something for themselves," businessman Alexei Gorlo said. "But despite all the talk about them stealing, for me personally, for my family living in Moscow, they have done much more. I live in an almost-European city."
Gorlo also credited Luzhkov for allowing his business to develop.
Yet others were more critical.
"We've been waiting for this decision for a long time," said Olga Savelieva, an architecture preservationist. "He shouldn't have had such an attitude to the city, to the historical heritage, to Muscovites. He shouldn't have thought only about his own wife and the family pockets that need to be filled."