Yury Luzhkov said the decision on when to step down as Moscow’s mayor will be his alone, even after the Kremlin abolished direct elections for regional leaders and reasserted its power to appoint them.
“This is my issue; it’s up to me to decide,” Luzhkov, 73, said in an interview in Moscow today, declining to elaborate. Luzhkov has run Moscow since 1992, making him the longest-serving chief executive since Vladimir Dolgorukov, who served as the city’s governor-general from 1865 to 1891.
Russian media have reported that Luzhkov, who was first appointed mayor by then-President Boris Yeltsin, may be forced to resign before his current term ends next year as part of the Kremlin’s strategy of replacing veteran regional chiefs.
Moscow is one of Russia’s 83 administrative units whose leaders are nominated by the president and confirmed by local legislatures. Then-President Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, abolished direct gubernatorial elections and streamlined the chain of command to concentrate power in the Kremlin.
Dmitry Medvedev, president since 2008, has been gradually replacing the longest-serving regional governors. Last week he accepted the early resignation of Murtaza Rakhimov, president of the oil-rich Bashkortostan region.
Last year, the Kremlin retired Eduard Rossel, governor of the Sverdlovsk region since 1991. In January, Mintimer Shaimiyev, president of oil-rich Tatarstan, agreed to step down after two decades in power.
While Luzhkov is a seasoned politician who controls Russia’s wealthiest region, he doesn’t have the final say about his future in the mayor’s office, Dmitry Orlov, director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, a Moscow-based public-relations company, said by telephone today.
Orlov’s agency in May issued a report that suggested Luzhkov may step down before his term ends.
“I think there is a 60 percent chance that Luzhkov will make an early exit, and if it happens it should be done by the end of the summer, which is the slow season for politics,” Orlov said.
The Kremlin and the Moscow city government will look for a compromise decision on Luzhkov’s departure, said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a member of Putin’s United Russia party and a sociologist who studies the country’s elites.
“I think 50 percent of what he says is true,” Kryshtanovskaya said. “If Medvedev and Putin could simply fire him, it would have been done a long time ago. He is one of the remaining mastodons. His ouster is approaching, it’s simply unavoidable, and some preparation is under way for it.”