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Q&A: Why Moscow's mayor fell foul of Medvedev

By Matthew Chance, CNN Senior International Correspondent
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Moscow's mayor fired
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Russian President fires long-standing mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov
  • Some see move as an attempt by Medvedev to shore up political position
  • Luzkhov and Medvedev have been at odds in recent months
  • Kremlin has tightened grip on power, removed a potential rival for authority
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Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired the long-standing mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov on Tuesday, saying he had lost the confidence of the president, according to a statement posted on the Kremlin's website.

Luzhkov had run the sprawling metropolis for almost two decades but his ousting was immediate, with the Kremlin installing first deputy Vladimir Resin as acting mayor.

So, what does this sacking tell us about the current state of Russian politics and the direction it might take in the near future?

Q. Why did Medvedev sack the mayor?

There are two answers to this: Firstly, Luzkhov and Medvedev have clashed over policy in recent months. Luzkhov criticized the Kremlin decision to halt work on a controversial road outside Moscow. That was seen as undermining the president's authority. Some analysts have therefore interpreted the dismissal as an attempt by President Medvedev to shore up his political position. If he did not act, he would have been seen as weak and unable to stand for a second term in 2012. For the moment, his critics are silenced and the president appears strong.

Secondly, Luzhkov was a political force in his own right. He enjoyed some popular support and did not depend on the Kremlin for his power. He now joins a growing list of relatively independent political figures pushed aside by the Kremlin in recent months and replaced by loyalists.

Q. Are there long-running issues between Luzhkov and Medvedev?

Yes, the two have been at odds for some time, growing increasingly irritated with each other. In response to Luzhkov's criticism of the Kremlin's handling of the road project, Medvedev said on Russian TV that "officials should either participate in building institutions or join the opposition."

What has been the role of the media in the sacking?

The media has played an extraordinary role in this story. Russia's state television channels began broadcasting reports carrying allegations that Luzhkov and his property-developer wife, Elena Baturina, are corrupt, and that he has mismanaged Moscow. Luzhkov denied the allegations and vowed to sue. But the fact that these long-standing allegations were being raked over in the state media was a strong indication his future as mayor was in jeopardy.

Did he have any supporters? What was Luzhkov's record like?

He had lots of supporters. As mayor, he raised pensions, built roads, renovated churches, and generally oversaw the transformation of Moscow from a grimy Soviet capital to a gleaming symbol of modern, oil-rich Russia. But the traffic congestion has steadily worsened over the years and some Muscovites associate him with corruption and nepotism. But few would deny he has left a profound mark on the Russian capital.

Would Putin have been involved in the decision?

Officially, no. Vladimir Putin is the prime minister and has no constitutional role in the hiring or firing of regional leaders. The president has that responsibility. However, it is widely assumed that Putin still wields the real power in Russia and that he must have signed off on the dismissal of Luzhkov before the presidential decree was made.

What does this move say about Medvedev's political position?

The dismissal shows that Medvedev has political clout, that he can act independently, even against extremely influential figures like Luzhkov. But the way in which it was handled, and the perception that Putin is really calling the shots underlines the president's secondary status in the eyes of some analysts.

Who is likely to replace Luzhkov?

His immediate successor is his deputy, Vladimir Resin. But the appointment is expected to be a temporary one. What Kremlin watchers are now focusing on is who will be the permanent replacement. If it is someone seen to be close to Medvedev, it could be a sign that the president will stay on for another term in 2012. If it is a Putin loyalist, some believe that it could signal a return to the Kremlin for the powerful prime minister.

Where does this leave Russian politics?

There has long been certain instability in Russia's vertical power structure and major changes like this rattle the leadership. On the other hand, the Kremlin has tightened its grip on power, it has removed another potential rival for authority. The ruling clan at the summit of Russian politics looks more entrenched that ever.

 
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