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Putin protege becomes new Moscow mayor

By Maxim Tkachenko, CNN
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) with Sergei Sobyanin on October 15, 2010. Sobyanin was elected Mayor Thursday.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) with Sergei Sobyanin on October 15, 2010. Sobyanin was elected Mayor Thursday.
  • Sergei Sobyanin has been chief of staff for Russia's powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin
  • He replaces Yeltsin-era political veteran Yuri Luzhkov
  • Election seen as largely a formality

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- In a no-surprise vote, the Moscow City legislature approved a handpicked Kremlin loyalist for the post of the new Moscow Mayor on Thursday.

The election was largely a formality as the 35-seat legislature is overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling United Russia party, and the candidate was earlier endorsed by both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

In a secret ballot, 32 Moscow city legislators voted for Sergei Sobyanin with just two voting against. One lawmaker was absent.

The Siberian-born Sobyanin, 52, who had for the past two and a half years worked as chief of staff for Putin, Russia's powerful prime minister, replaced a defiant and deeply-entrenched Yeltsin-era political veteran Yuri Luzhkov, who had ruled the Russian capital as his fiefdom for more than 18 years but who lately became increasingly at odds with the federal government.

Last month, Medvedev dramatically sacked Luzhkov, saying he had lost confidence in him, amid a smear campaign against the former mayor in state media charging him with large-scale mismanagement and of using his position to make his wife the third richest woman in the world on the Forbes list, with an estimated $2.9 billion fortune.

But analysts widely believe Luzhkov was fired for his disloyalty and alleged attempts to drive a wedge between Medvedev and Putin. In an earlier exclusive interview with CNN, Luzhkov said he was ousted because the Kremlin was concerned that such an "unusual, self-sufficient and independent" political figure like him might not follow the Kremlin orders ahead of the crucial parliament elections in 2011 and presidential vote in 2012.

"They need a man from their circle as mayor of Moscow," Luzhkov said.

Sobyanin was chosen by Medvedev last Friday among three other Kremlin candidates, after days of extensive closed-door consultations within Russia's political establishment. Medvedev said he believes his endorsed candidate will be able to tackle Moscow's corruption, traffic jams and pressing social issues.

Addressing the lawmakers on Thursday before the vote, Sobyanin spoke in favor of a more open and efficient system of the Russian capital's management.

"One can't fail to see that the (former) city authorities have missed many opportunities in recent years, sometimes using the city's resources ineffectively. The pace of development has been slowing," Sobyanin said, with Russian State TV carrying his speech live.

"We must stop grabbing every vacant spot and do away with disproportions. Infrastructure, roads, hotels, recreation and sport areas, local stores and public services should become our priorities. In fact, we should make life of city residents comfortable," he said.

"Moscow is one of the world's most densely populated cites, while the number of city roads is one of the world's smallest," Sobyanin said.

He pledged to resolve a number of "urban planning errors", fix the "wear-and-tear" of the city's housing and utilities sector and to take control over "wild" markets which, he said, are associated with "criminality, illegal migrants, contraband, substandard products and finally, a huge flow of traffic moving in their direction".

He said the city's problems are colossal but he is confident that he will manage to resolve them step by step.

Sergei Sobyanin was governor of the oil-rich Tymen region in the early 2000s, and then served as then-President Putin's chief of staff during his second term in office. In 2008, Sobyanin was head of Medvedev's presidential election campaign.

Sobyanin was sworn in as Moscow mayor just three hours after his election for a term of five years.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, Medvedev said the duty of the new mayor will be to "increase the living standards of the Muscovites, as well as all those who come here to work and live. ... And I am sure that you'll be working around the clock fulfilling this task."

"Moscow is not only the political capital of our country, but also the center of business activity," Medvedev said. "That's why we decided to turn Moscow into a financial center for Russia and, in the future, into a financial center for the whole of Eurasia."