Archive for October, 2010


PM Putin’s chief of staff is the new Moscow Mayor

Observers who predicted that Luzhkov’s ousting was a sign of Dmitry Medvedev’s emancipation and growing political independance were once again wrong. Luzhkov has been replaced by Sergei Sobyanin, who is even closer to Vladimir Putin.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff was nominated Friday as Moscow’s next mayor, a move seen as bringing the capital’s sizable political and business interests under the direct control of the Kremlin.

The Moscow city legislature has to approve the nomination of Sergei Sobyanin, which is widely seen as a formality. It also locks Putin’s grip on power ahead of presidential elections in 2012. President Dmitry Medvedev put forward Sobyanin’s name.

Putin appointed Sobyanin as his chief of staff in 2005 during his first presidency, and hasn’t ruled out another term. Putin has been the dominant leader in a ruling tandem with his protege Medvedev, and does not appear to want to recede from politics as speculation mounts about which of them will run for president.

Sobyanin is set to replace Yuri Luzhkov, who was dismissed by Medvedev last month after 18 years in office.

If confirmed, the appointment would bring the Kremlin control over politics and money flows in the capital: Luzhkov was one of the last remaining power bases in Russian politics not under the direct influence of the Kremlin.

“This is very difficult work, with a lot of responsibility,” Medvedev told Sobyanin in a televised meeting. “But you’re up to it.”

Sobyanin, who can be counted upon to get out the Moscow vote for the ruling United Russia party as one of it’s highest-ranking members, was enthusiastic in response.

“For me, this is a big responsibility and vote of confidence, and I’ll do everything to justify it,” Sobyanin said. “I’ve been living in Moscow for a few years and I know the issues it faces. A lot has been done in the last few years, but at the same time there are serious problems that need solving immediately,” he said.

Medvedev said a reason Sobyanin was nominated was that “Moscow should be completely integrated with federal authorities, so confidence can be maintained.”

Sobyanin promised to work closely with the federal government.

Medvedev gave a “loss of faith” as his motivation for firing Luzhkov, after the 74-year-old mayor criticized the president in a newspaper article. He suggested that Luzhkov, or at least his staff, may face investigators over alleged corruption during his time in office.

Medvedev said that among Sobyanin’s priorities was rooting out graft, an area in which “very little has been done in recent times, and in several situations schemes were used that should, as a minimum, be checked for their compliance with the law.”

Medvedev also charged Sobyanin with making Moscow more open and competitive for business, and addressing the capital’s perennial traffic problems.

Sobyanin, 52, was born and raised in oil-rich Western Siberia. Before Putin brought him to Moscow he had risen through the political ranks to the chief of the Tyumen region. He headed Medvedev’s presidential campaign staff in 2008.


Hot chicks in bikini to support Vladimir Putin

Russia’s PM Vladimir Putin is a lucky man… A group of young women studying at Moscow University’s prestigious school of journalism gave Vladimir Putin a controversial birthday present last week.

They stripped to their underwear for a calendar in which they offered breathy messages of adoration to the president-turned-prime minister, telling him with longing looks that “You only get better with the years,” and sighing, “If only everyone had such a man.”

Others found something to admire in his handling of this summer’s forest fires, revealing that “You put out the fires but I’m still burning,” while one winkingly encouraged the birthday boy to return to the presidency in the 2012 elections by whispering “If not you, who?” and “How about a third time?”

Russia and Putin are used to this sort of thing. He has been serenaded by pop divas and has cultivated a macho image by riding in jet fighters, diving in Lake Baikal, firing darts into tigers and whales and famously riding and fishing shirtless in Siberia. State television, on which real news is scarce, devotes much time to such official pantomimes.

Amid speculation that the calendar was another homage from one of the youth groups that propagate Putin’s cult of personality, the men behind it insisted that it was a simple birthday offering from girls “with good looks and brains”.

But many of Russia’s real journalists were furious. They saw the girls as an embarrassment to Moscow University and to a profession that is under huge pressure from political and financial elites to scrap independent reporting and become part of their public relations machine.

The outrage of critics was intensified by the timing of the calendar, because October 7th was not only Putin’s 58th birthday but the fourth anniversary of the murder of Russia’s best-known journalist, Anna Politkovskaya.

She was shot dead in the hallway of her apartment block by men who have still not been found, and so became a symbol of the free, combative media that have been almost completely silenced since Putin first entered the Kremlin a decade ago.

Politkovskaya was the most dogged chronicler of Putin’s war against rebels in Chechnya, which is now led by his local ally Ramzan Kadyrov, a man Politkovskaya and many others have accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering opponents.

Politkovskaya’s colleagues and admirers thought her fame would protect her from the kind of violence inflicted on many Russian journalists who have told uncomfortable truths to power, particularly in the provinces of this vast country, where corruption is rife and the rule of law feeble.

But her reputation could not protect her, and the fact that Russia’s best-known reporter could be murdered with impunity in the doorway of her home in central Moscow had a chilling effect on an already emasculated media.

In Russia, the worlds of crime, the security services, politics and business intersect more extensively than in most other European countries. It is inconceivable that the identities of those who ordered, planned and carried out the killing of someone as prominent as Politkovskaya could not be known to at least some of the people who should be trying to catch them.

Rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, speaks for many when she talks of the likely involvement in the killing of elements of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which Putin once ran and which has massively increased its power during his rule.

“The FSB carried out surveillance either for the killers or to kill her,” she said. “It’s obvious to me that the FSB’s involvement in this case has made it impossible to sort out.”

Speaking at a rally of a few hundred people who gathered in a Moscow square in remembrance of Politkovskaya, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said he no longer believed that it was a just “terrible coincidence” that she was murdered on Putin’s birthday. “It’s the style of this regime, which hates journalists because it sees them as independent, and fears that they will expose their crimes,” he said.

“They saw Anna as a personal enemy. They sent her to the cemetery, and we must send them to the political cemetery, so we can once again be proud of our country.”

When the next speaker mentions the already notorious calendar models, a young woman shouts out “They are not journalists!”

She is Polina Myakinchenko, another student at Moscow University’s journalism school and an intern at Novaya Gazeta, the campaigning newspaper that employed Politkovskaya.

She is young and slight, but her eyes blaze as she speaks.

“We have to remember Anna and what happened to her,” she says. “Not enough of us care. But if we forget, Russia is finished.”


Will Luzhkov’s sack really benefit to Medvedev

The sack of Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow mayor and close friend of Vladimir Putin, can be seen as a power show from Dmitry Medvedev. Ousting one of the founders of Putin’s United Russia party has even been compared to Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s arrest. Therefore, journalists want to believe that Medvedev’s move is the first step of a succession war with Putin… not that simple…

First of all, Vladimir Putin remained strangely neutral during the ousting process. If Medvedev had really launched a war, we all know Putin would not have reacted that way… It’s not facts but common sense!

Moscow’s portly mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, has been one of the most visible figures in Russian politics for 18 years. But his sacking by President Dmitry Medvedev caps a year in which a number of other long-lived local heavyweights have bitten the proverbial dust, consolidating the Kremlin’s authority as well as Mr Medvedev’s personal power.

Mr Luzhkov’s power was that of a feudal baron – allowed to rule as he saw fit as long as he delivered comfortable majorities for the ruling United Russia party in elections and maintained stability in the capital, say analysts.

But Mr Medvedev has been quietly replacing a number of politically independent strongmen in sensitive local posts. They include Mintimer Shaimiev, president of the autonomous region of Tatarstan, who stood down in March after 19 years in the job, and Murtaz Rakhimov, president of Bashkortostan, who left in July, having been in the post since 1993.

According to Masha Lipman, analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, the think-tank, Mr Luzhkov’s ouster is part of a pattern in which the Kremlin replaces figures who have a strong local basis of support with appointees who owe their jobs to Moscow.

“It is quite legitimate to regard [Mr Luzhkov’s ouster] as an element of a single policy,” she said.

Many political analysts believe the post of mayor may now be split into two jobs – mayor and chairman of government – which would weaken the position and ensure that the Kremlin will never again have a figure with Mr Luzhkov’s stature to contend with.

Konstantin Remchukov, chief editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the respected Moscow daily, said that there were important nuances to Mr Luzhkov’s sacking that show Mr Medvedev gaining authority in his job.

Both Mr Shaimiev and Mr Rakhimov formally stood down voluntarily. Mr Rakhimov was even given a high state award for his services, thought to be a sign that Mr Medvedev was unable to force him out of power without a compromise.

The ouster of Mr Luzhkov marks the first time Mr Medvedev has used his constitutional power to fire a powerful local leader and demonstrates his “political evolution”, according to Mr Remchukov. “To be taken seriously in our hierarchical society, you need to demolish someone powerful,” he said.

He drew a parallel with the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, oil tycoon, in 2003, which confirmed Mr Medvedev’s mentor, former president, now prime minister, Vladimir Putin, as the all-powerful leader of Russia. Mr Medvedev’s move is seen as exceedingly risky by some observers. Mr Luzhkov was no outsider, he was one of the founders of the United Russia party, currently headed by Mr Putin. His rough handling by Mr Medvedev could create tensions within the party and pitch Moscow politics into turmoil with only a year to go before 2011 parliamentary elections.

But Ms Lipman contends that Mr Medvedev had little choice but to fire Mr Luzhkov, given the mayor’s defiance and his personal criticism of the president that ignited the conflict earlier this month. “Had Medvedev failed it would have made him look exceedingly weak,” she said.

The Luzhkov crisis, which began on September 10 with the first broadside against the mayor in a Kremlin-directed TV campaign also showed Mr Medvedev making decisions seemingly independently of Mr Putin. Mr Medvedev has always been seen as the junior partner in the ruling “tandem” and it is thought that all decisions on major issues are agreed between the two.

Natalia Timakova, Mr Medvedev’s spokeswoman, confirmed to reporters that Mr Medvedev had informed Mr Putin of the decision in advance.“Of course, Luzhkov was fired by a joint decision of the tandem . . . Dmitry Anatolyevich [Mr Medvedev] . . . would never decide appointments, even appointments which are within the president’s area of competence, on his own,” said Alexei Venediktov, editor in chief of the opposition-friendly radio station Ekho Moskvy.

Mr Putin stayed overtly neutral throughout the campaign against Mr Luzhkov, making no public attempt to interfere on either side, although officials close to Mr Putin briefed reporters that Mr Luzhkov should resign, just as officials close to Medvedev did.

“Putin was watching from the sidelines to see how Medvedev performed,” said Mr Remchukov.

But the next stage of the game will show whether Mr Medvedev has the power to independently name Mr Luzhkov’s successor, or whether the successor will be a Putin appointee. “Medvedev has shown that he has the power to fire but he has not yet shown if he has the power to appoint someone without agreeing it with Putin,” said Mr Remchukov.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a Moscow State University sociologist, said the succession question in Moscow is a prelude to the much more important presidential succession to be decided in 2012, which is whether Mr Putin returns to the presidency or Mr Medvedev has a second term.