Moscow’s strongman mayor, who came to power 18 years ago when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was still an obscure official, is finally under mounting pressure to quit, but showing no sign of leaving his post willingly.
Criticism of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who turns 74 this month, intensified after the bee-keeping mayor boldly ignored Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s desire to freshen up the ranks of local leaders, angering the Kremlin.
Unhappiness with Luzhkov reached the boiling point this week as the Kremlin snapped at the Moscow mayor’s apparent attempts to sow discord in the ruling tandem of Medvedev and his mentor, Putin.
“Moscow’s authorities have gone too far in their attempts to create a clash between the president and the prime minister,” a source in the Kremlin told Interfax this week. “These attempts will not be left without proper reaction.”
The comment followed several controversial articles in pro-Luzhkov Moskovsky Komsomolets daily and the mayor’s annoyance with the Kremlin’s criticism of his vacation during a critical heatwave that caused a health crisis in the capital.
While Putin showed support, “I got a kick from the other side, the [presidential] administration,” Luzhkov said last week on a Moscow-owned channel. “I came back as soon as I had the chance, on a plane.”
Earning the nickname kepka, or “flat cap” for his customary headwear, Luzhkov has ruled over the Russian capital since the 1992 appointment to the post by then-Russian president Boris Yeltsin.
The Kremlin has seen two administrations change as the City Hall, just a kilometer away from the Kremlin’s walls, had its power propelled by Russia’s economic growth. Corporate taxes from firms headquartered in the capital padded Moscow’s budget to a whopping US$32 billion last year.
The aging mayor has earned his share of ridicule for eclectic hobbies such as bee-keeping, authoring books on river redirection and inventing dozens of devices like water desalinators and lasers to shoot down icicles.
Hailing from a different political clan than Putin or Medvedev, who are both from Saint Petersburg, Luzhkov is also enveloped by allegations of corrupt deals profiting his family. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
The federal authorities have however tolerated him — until now. On Friday, national channel NTV, which is owned by state gas monopoly Gazprom, showed a prime-time special called The Affair of the Flat Cap, in an unprecedented mass media expose of Luzhkov.
“Why was the mayor rescuing his bees while Muscovites choked in the smoke?” a voice dramatically asks as people wearing medical masks are shown wandering through the haze with the Kremlin’s shadow in the background.
The documentary also issued a litany of allegations against his billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina, Critics have long accused the mayor of illegally favoring her construction company Inteko.
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