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Putin loyalist named new mayor of Moscow

President Medvedev names Sergei Sobyanin to the post, leading analysts to conclude that there is no rift with Putin and that he remains the real power at the Kremlin.

October 16, 2010|By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Moscow — A staunch supporter of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been nominated to the post of mayor of Moscow by President Dmitry Medvedev, who fired the previous mayor in a public spat that experts thought exposed a power struggle between the two top Kremlin leaders.

Deputy Premier Sergei Sobyanin, 42, was selected to replace Yuri Luzhkov, who was fired by Medvedev late last month from the job he had held since 1992.

Political observers had thought the ouster might have been an initial battleground in a potential presidential race between Medvedev and Putin in 2012. Medvedev is a protege of Putin and was selected to run for president in 2008 when Putin was forced from office by term limits. Many predict that Putin will run for president again when he is allowed to in 2012.

Sobyanin, however, is a Putin loyalist who headed Putin's staff at the end of his presidency and followed him to serve as deputy premier in his Cabinet.

The nomination requires the approval of the City Council, but that is seen as a mere formality for the body, which is dominated by the ruling United Russia party.

Describing Sobyanin as "a businesslike and modern man," Medvedev said he had asked him to resolve Moscow's social problems, notorious traffic jams and corruption.

"Unfortunately in this sphere [corruption], very little has been done recently," Medvedev said to Sobyanin during a meeting at the Kremlin broadcast by the Russia 24 television channel. "The mayor of Moscow should pay closest attention to these things and try and make the economic life in Moscow more open and more competitive."

Luzhkov, 74, was fired after a three-week standoff with the Kremlin. TV reports had accused him of abuse of office, neglect of duties and corruption. His wife, Yelena Baturina, allegedly benefited from city construction projects during her husband's tenure.

Luzhkov refused to leave office voluntarily and openly challenged Medvedev, accusing him of acting undemocratically in an open letter published after he was fired.

Sobyanin told Medvedev in the Kremlin on Friday that he had lived in Moscow quite a while and knew the city's problems well enough.

"We will be resolving them together with the government and the presidential staff," Sobyanin said in the televised remarks.

Analysts say the nomination indicates that Putin remains the most powerful force in the Kremlin.

"The fact that Medvedev obediently nominated Sobyanin indicates that there is no rift between him and Putin," said Liliya Shevtsova, a senior researcher with the Moscow Carnegie Center, in a telephone interview. "Medvedev still remains a pale shadow of Putin, part of Putin's plan to preserve his grip on power. "Medvedev may have his own ambitions but he lacks personnel resources, he has no possibility to control economic, financial, administrative and most importantly power structures, all in Putin's firm grasp."

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