The sacking of Yuri Luzhkov is seismic. A feature of Russia’s political landscape since the fall of the Iron curtain, his demise brings 18 years of domination in the country’s most powerful city to an end.
Famed for his blunt manner, Luzhkov is no longer the king of Moscow, a city with a 200 billion euro economy – or a quarter of Russia’s GDP.
Appointed mayor by Boris Yeltsin in 1992, Lushkov rose through the communist party’s ranks and was seen as a safe pair of hands during the chaos that followed the Soviet collapse.
He transformed Moscow from a gloomy grey city, to a showcase of Russia’s booming economy. But there were glaring problems. Beneath the glamour and luxury, corruption, pollution and chronic traffic jams remained.
Luzhkov oversaw the re-construction of Moscow’s ‘Our Christ the Saviour’ cathedral and numerous other projects. But the building boom couldn’t paper over the glaring wealth divide, which continues to hang over Moscow like its perpetual pollution.
His enemies accused him of running Moscow like a personal fiefdom. His property developer wife certainly benefited under his 18 year reign, becoming Russia’s richest woman. Estimated to be worth more than two billion euros, she denies acquiring her fortune thanks to her husband’s job.
The writing was on the wall in a series of recent TV documentaries on channels backed by the Kremlin. They accused Luzhkov of taking bribes, and caring more about his bees than Moscow’s smoke choked residents, as he fled the city during August’s deadly forest fires.
He was also well known for his conservative rhetoric. It pleased many but infuriated liberals. Luzhkov sent police to break up gay-pride marches which he described as ‘Satanic’.
He was appointed for a four-year term in 2007 by the then president Vladimir Putin, who scrapped elections for heads of Russia’s biggest cities. Some analysts say the decision to sack him couldn’t have been taken without Putin’s say so. But the axe fell ahead of a presidential poll in 2012. Neither Putin nor Medvedev have said if they will run. However, today’s ruthless decision by President Medvedev may suggest he wants to demonstrate he is no one’s puppet.