Russia’s president fired Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov yesterday, 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.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree relieving the 74-year-old of his duties due to a “loss of confidence” in him, according to the Kremlin. With the long-awaited move, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Medvedev sent a powerful signal that no regional leader is indispensable.
Speculation over the future of the cap-wearing mayor had swirled in recent days, forcing him to declare on Monday that he wouldn’t quit — an option that Medvedev’s spokeswoman said 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.
For years, Luzhkov has remained despite rumors that his days were 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.
Luzhkov, meanwhile, leaves a considerable legacy.
The stocky former chemical engineering plant manager ran the city of 10 million 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 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 Luzhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, who is believed to be Russia’s only female billionaire. Suspicions swirled consistently that corruption by Luzhkov fed his wife’s wealth.
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