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‘Technical Error’ Shows Kremlin Still Divided on Moscow Mayor

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- A Russian state broadcaster’s “technical error” in reporting that President Dmitry Medvedev had picked Sergei Sobyanin to become Moscow mayor shows that the Kremlin remains divided on the nomination, analysts said.

State broadcaster Rossiya 24 reported on its website before 7 a.m. this morning that Medvedev had chosen Sobyanin, 52, for the post. The Kremlin said less than two hours later that the station had made a “technical mistake” in reporting the news and that the president hadn’t chosen from among four candidates proposed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

“This stopped being funny a long time ago,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst in Moscow. “This sort of ‘error’ rarely happens. This is all about PR. There’s still no agreement at the very top or there would have been an announcement a long time ago.”

Rossiya 24 said an employee had “mistakenly” posted the report about the nomination of Sobyanin, Putin’s chief of staff, on the station’s website today, and the report was subsequently cited by its radio station Vesti FM, the Itar-Tass news service reported, citing an unidentified Rossiya 24 official.

Repeated calls to Rossiya 24 for comment went unanswered today.

“All this intrigue shows that the choice isn’t simple,” Mikhail Remizov, president of the Moscow-based Institute for National Strategy, said by telephone.

‘Right-Hand Man’

Sobyanin was governor of his native Tyumen region in Siberia for four years before Putin, then president, brought him to Moscow as the Kremlin chief of staff in 2005. When Putin became prime minister in 2008, he took Sobyanin with him into the government.

“Sobyanin is Putin’s right-hand man,” Remizov said. “If Medvedev doesn’t nominate Sobyanin now it will reveal another crack” in his relationship with Putin.

Remizov said Sobyanin is acceptable to both Putin and Medvedev, as well as to “the financial and industrial groups that matter to both men.” He is considered an “effective leader and manager,” Remizov said.

United Russia on Oct. 9 proposed three candidates in addition to Sobyanin: Transport Minister Igor Levitin, Nizhny Novgorod Governor Valery Shantsev and Moscow First Deputy Mayor Lyudmila Shvetsova. Medvedev has 10 days to make his decision.

Billionaire Wife

Medvedev cited a “loss of confidence” in Luzhkov as the reason for removing him after 18 years in office. The move came after weeks of media reports that accused the former mayor of corruption and favoritism toward his wife, billionaire Yelena Baturina, head of the development company ZAO Inteco. The couple have denied the allegations.

Luzhkov said Medvedev had fired him because he couldn’t be sure of the mayor’s support in a possible power struggle with Putin before the 2012 presidential election, when Putin will be eligible to seek a third term in the Kremlin.

The Moscow mayor controls a budget of more than 1 trillion rubles ($33.2 billion). Moscow accounted for 23.8 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product in 2008, the last year for which data are available, according to the Federal State Statistics Service.

Moscow’s city council must approve Medvedev’s nomination. Putin’s United Russia party, which submitted the short-list of mayoral candidates from which Medvedev made his selection, holds 32 of the chamber’s 35 seats.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net; Lucian Kim in Moscow at lkim3@bloomberg.net; Lyubov Pronina in Moscow at lpronina@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Willy Morris at wmorris@bloomberg.ne

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