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The Economist: Luzhkov v Kremlin

rechnik.jpg

What’s the deal with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov’s sudden thirst for demolition, eviction, and intimidation?  The neighbourhood of Rechnik, on the outskirts of Moscow, home to a number of houses varying in size and value, was subjected to a midnight demolition raid last month on Luzhkov’s orders, supposedly issued on grounds that the buildings had been constructed illegally.  And Dmitry Medvedev has now been brought in to oversee the question of whether or not residents’ rights were violated in the process.  Critics have accused Luzhkov of wanting to free up space for new buildings projects, and the artist colony of Sokol is now also said to be under threat.  You’d think that such a bizarre and arbitrary plot could only have been orchestrated by the Kremlin.
Apparently not.  The Economist reports that Luzhkov and the Kremlin hold long-standing issues of contention, and that the Rechnik debacle just gives the ruling powers even more ammunition against the Moscow mayor.  

Last year the Kremlin dented Mr Luzhkov’s political machine by firing his police chief. The Rechnik row gives the Kremlin extra ammunition. “This may not be the last straw against Luzhkov, but it is certainly another one,” says an insider. State television has fiercely attacked Mr Luzhkov. A civic council set up by the Kremlin has now forced the demolition of houses in Rechnik to be suspended.

Mr Luzhkov’s term ends next year. The question is whether he will be allowed to serve it out. Predictions of Mr Luzhkov losing his job have been both frequent and wrong. One reason is that he has such deep roots that removing him risks destabilising the capital. Another is that Moscow is such a lucrative territory that the prospect of replacing Mr Luzhkov stirs feuds between the various Kremlin clans.

[…] The removal of Mr Luzhkov would be unlikely to make Moscow either more transparent or less corrupt. But it would bring it more under the Kremlin’s control. What started as a redistribution of garden plots in a Moscow suburb may finish with a distribution of much juicier assets.

PHOTO: An Interior Ministry officer walks past a demolished mansion in Rechnik settlement in Moscow January 26, 2010. (REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin)