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Yuri May Be Out, But Not Because of Unpopularity

Roland Oliphant reminds us that the fact that Yuri Luzhkov is under the screws and the fact that he is deeply unpopular – hated even – by many Muscovites, is completely coincidental and a non-factor in the Kremlin’s decision to give him the boot.  It is, of course, nevertheless convenient to give the whole process an air of quasi-democratic justice…

Like most Muscovites – and I use the term advisedly, for since only third generation dwellers of the Russian capital can claim the title neither I nor our soon to be former mayor qualify – I was pretty appalled at Yuri Luzhkov’s washing his hands of the smog crisis this summer. His defenders might be right that there was little he could have done to stem the fires causing it, but his departure on holiday at a time when the rest of us were choking was not, shall we say, politic. Even Stalin is meant to have stayed in Moscow as the Germans closed in, and they got as far as the IKEA store in Khimki. Luzhkov took a holiday in Austria when the flames were still a hundred kilometers off. Not a great image, that.

But public opinion has nothing to do with Luzhkov’s imminent departure. In fact, the first inkling ordinary Muscovites had of their mayor’s impending downfall was a documentary aired on the federally controlled NTV television channel last Friday night, which belatedly exposed all the corruption, callousness and eccentricities that Moscow’s taxi drivers have been chatting to their passengers about for years.

The smear campaign continued as other state owned channels tried to pretend they had only just noticed that the mayor is corrupt (…)