Moscow’s New Mayor Inherits Gridlock, Graft, Deficit

Sergei Sobyanin, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s former chief of staff, became Moscow mayor today with a vow to tackle the city’s gridlock, widening budget deficit and corruption.

Sobyanin replaces Yury Luzhkov, whom Medvedev fired last month after 18 years running Europe’s largest city. He was inaugurated after earlier winning the approval of the Moscow city council, where Putin’s United Russia party holds 32 out of 35 seats.

“Step by step we’ll fix the city’s problems,” Sobyanin said on state television after the Moscow City Duma approved his nomination by President Dmitry Medvedev. “At the very least we’ll continuously improve the situation.”

The Moscow mayor, like the leaders of Russia’s regions, is essentially appointed by the Kremlin, after then-President Putin abolished direct gubernatorial elections in 2004. Forty-six percent of Muscovites would prefer electing their mayor in a direct vote, while 8 percent agree with the current system, according to a poll published by the Levada Center last week.

While Sobyanin was relieved of his duties on the federal level, he promised to remain in Putin’s “big team” during a government meeting today. Medvedev named Vyacheslav Volodin, 46, a senior United Russia functionary, to replace Sobyanin as Putin’s chief of staff and deputy prime minister.

‘Loss of Confidence’

Medvedev said at the inauguration ceremony that Sobyanin will have to work “24 hours a day” to maintain the standard of living Moscow has achieved since the 1990s and to help turn the city into the financial center for Eurasia.

Sobyanin, a former Siberian governor whom Putin brought to Moscow in 2005, inherits a raft of problems that caused Medvedev to dismiss his predecessor for a “loss of confidence.” In the weeks before his firing, Luzhkov, 74, was attacked by state television for traffic jams and the fortune of his wife Yelena Baturina, Russia’s richest woman. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has said Moscow should sell assets to plug its 120 billion ruble ($3.9 billion) deficit.

Transportation problems are the capital’s number one concern, shared by 42 percent of Muscovites, according to a poll published yesterday by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM. Inflation came in second place, concerning 28 percent of the capital’s residents.

Bribery, Red Tape

Sixty-six percent of Muscovites questioned by the Levada Center said they expect corruption and abuse of power to remain the same. Fifty-eight percent said Medvedev should follow up on corruption accusations leveled against Luzhkov.

Sobyanin promised today to improve Moscow’s investment climate, which he said had been damaged by bribery, red tape, traffic jams and lack of transparent management. He also criticized Luzhkov for spending beyond the city’s means.

The new mayor, acknowledging that he wasn’t directly elected by voters, thanked Muscovites for the confidence they showed him via their council members.

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