November 01, 2010

End of an Era

Over the past decade, politics in Russia has ceased to be a realm for public spectacle, what with Vladimir Putin’s “vertical of power” replacing the free-wheeling Yeltsin years’ ethos of insubordination and political back-biting. That all changed this fall when high drama and political intrigue enfolded Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow’s mayor of 18 years (a period equal to that of Leonid Brezhnev’s tenure as General Secretary of the USSR).

Luzhkov’s style and persona permeated every aspect of the capital, from the countless honey festivals (Luzhkov is a beekeeper) to the Luzhkovian granite and glass edifices that displaced historic buildings. Yet President Dmitry Medvedev sacked the mayor with a decree that cited “lack of confidence” in Luzhkov – harsh words indeed from a president many consider a pawn of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and who has never before fired a governor.

The Luzhkov v. Kremlin bout began with several articles in mayor-friendly newspapers, criticizing recent presidential decisions, followed by a stream of commentary from “unidentified Kremlin sources” regarding Luzhkov’s inappropriate behavior, and a series of reports on state television about corruption in Moscow. Observers have concluded that the mayor’s mortal sin was attempting to sow discord between Putin and Medvedev, which would seem a strange tack for the 74-year-old mayor, who was expected to step down next year in any event, when his term as governor ran out.

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