Luzhkov: The Last Of The Mohicans

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

According to ancient wisdom, when God wants to punish someone, he takes away his mind first.  For 18 long years, the supernatural powers overseeing Russian politics have been infallibly supportive of just-fired Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, leaving him with enough common sense to stay in the office—as a master of the economic powerhouse called Moscow, as a behind-the-scenes kingmaker, as a founder of political parties, and as the husband of a billionaire wife—under three different Russian presidents.

But then this summer, something happened, and the powers-that-be turned their backs on Luzhkov.  The shrewdness that had guided the mayor through his eventful political career suddenly betrayed him.  He made a highly questionable decision to go on vacation even as forest fires surrounded the Russian capital.   He publicly criticized President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to stop the construction of a road through the Khimki Forest.  And when the presidential administration—still being in the mood to avoid open confrontation—offered him the option to quietly retire, Luzhkov, who is 74 after all, refused and openly challenged the Kremlin to fire him.

He picked a fight he could not win, and he did not.  On Sept. 28, Medvedev fired Luzhkov from China by issuing a “loss of confidence” decree, the first such decree of his presidency.

By firing Luzhkov, Medvedev reached an important milestone in his quest to clean the ranks of regional governors.  In January, he accepted the resignation of the president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiyev, who had held the post since 1991.  Shaimiyev was followed, in July, by Murtaza Rakhimov, since 1993 the president of Bashkortostan. Like Luzhkov, Shaimiyev and Rakhimov held tight control over their regions and were not shy to flex their political muscles in the face of the federal center.  Incidentally, all three were co-founders of the ruling United Russia party.

However, while Shaimiyev and Rakhimov were reasonably popular in their respective regions, Luzhkov was not: A recent poll showed that more than half of all Muscovites disapproved of his performance.  In this respect, Luzhkov joins the company of Georgy Boos, former governor of the Kaliningrad region.  In August, Boos wasn’t reappointed for a new term because of the lack “of sufficient trust [for him] in the region.”

Regional governors in Russia are appointed by the president, and so far, Medvedev has shown no desire to return to the old system of direct elections, so the popularity of the governors in the regions shouldn’t in principle matter much to the Kremlin.  And yet, by refusing to reappoint Boos (whom many call a capable administrator) and by firing Luzhkov, Medvedev seems to be sending an important message: In the future, governors will be judged not only by their loyalty to the federal center, but also by their approval ratings among the local population.

In the weeks to come, Moscow will resemble a disturbed beehive (to invoke Luzhkov’s favorite hobby) buzzing with anxiety, rumors and Monday-morning-quarterbacking. The question du jour is obviously the name of Luzhkov’s successor.  Later, longer-term issues will come to the forefront of analysts’ attention, such as the potential impact of the succession on the 2011-2012 Duma and presidential elections.

But even today, it’s clear that by firing Luzhkov, Medvedev may have won the hearts and minds of millions of people—in Moscow and across the country—who would be willing to see him re-elected in 2012.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Luzhkov: The Last Of The Mohicans

  1. You forgot to add Kirsun Ilyumzhinov to your list of former presidents/governors for life who aren’t — to their surprise,no doubt — any more.
    I think Med/Put are simply getting rid, one by one, of people who think they own their jobs.

  2. Eugene says:

    Patrick,
    You’re absolutely right: I should have added Ilyumzhinov and also Rossel and Stroev. But given that I was writing for RBTH and had a space limit (and editor too:), I only mentioned Shaimiev and Rakhimov because of their connection to United Russia. (BTW, I find it significant that Medvedev, who isn’t a UR member, managed to “purge” their Supreme Council by removing 3 “founding Dads” of 4. And I suspect that many “young guns” within UR are grateful to him for that.)
    Another thing is that Medvedev still refuses to discuss the topic of direct governor elections. Is he such a fan of the “power vertical”? My sense is that he first wants to replace ALL the guys like Luzhkov & Co. (he’s only half-through) and THEN consider coming back to direct elections. Otherwise, do you have any doubt that with all his money, Luzhkov will be re-elected in a hearbeat for the glory of democracy?
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

  3. Eugene says:

    Thanks Mike,
    Speaking “abroad”, reading their comments — sometimes in very “native” Russian language — is, as we say, priceless🙂
    I like your invocation of the federal government and states in the U.S. True all states take to some extent federal money (much of which the feds get from the states), but they still have their own money, and some states have laws on the book demanding balanced budgets.
    In contrast, more than 2/3 Russian regions are net receivers of federal money provided by so-called donor states. I see the Kremlin’s logic in sending a Vice-Roy to the region to oversee the distribution of essentially federal money. It’s like with kids: for as long as you depend on me financially, I have a right to execute certain control over your actions.
    Sometime ago, I advocated GRADUAL reintroduction of direct governor elections — starting with self-sufficient regions. The Krasnoyarskij Kraj and Khloponin were my Exhibit A. True, for the same logic, Luzhkov also would have to be given the opportunity to run. Well, there are no perfect schemes, are they?
    Enjoy your weekend!
    Eugene

  4. As to governors, Russia has been around the track several times on this: appointment, election, appointment and now a sort of “directed free choice” of the majority in the legislatures.
    We come back to the interesting fact that in Russia there has been more change (at least of personalities) at the top than anywhere else.
    Your hypothesis that Medvedev (The Team) will gradually replace all the leaders-for-life in the regions before returning to elections is a good one and worth watching for corroboration.

  5. Yes term limits are a good idea everywhere except, maybe, in Westminster-style systems.

  6. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Leo,
    Welcome back and thanks for your as always thoughtful comment.
    Leaving with a bang, so to speak. Well, your “being” Luzhkov is as legit as mine… Sure, in Luzhkov’s place, I might want to leave as well. I’d however choose to leave quitely even without accepting any “sweatener” they offered me.
    But to leave as he left, i.e. exposing his wife’s business to assaults. No, I can’t understand this bravery.
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

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Luzhkov: The Last Of The Mohicans

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

According to ancient wisdom, when God wants to punish someone, he takes away his mind first.  For 18 long years, the supernatural powers overseeing Russian politics have been infallibly supportive of just-fired Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, leaving him with enough common sense to stay in the office—as a master of the economic powerhouse called Moscow, as a behind-the-scenes kingmaker, as a founder of political parties, and as the husband of a billionaire wife—under three different Russian presidents.

But then this summer, something happened, and the powers-that-be turned their backs on Luzhkov.  The shrewdness that had guided the mayor through his eventful political career suddenly betrayed him.  He made a highly questionable decision to go on vacation even as forest fires surrounded the Russian capital.   He publicly criticized President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to stop the construction of a road through the Khimki Forest.  And when the presidential administration—still being in the mood to avoid open confrontation—offered him the option to quietly retire, Luzhkov, who is 74 after all, refused and openly challenged the Kremlin to fire him.

He picked a fight he could not win, and he did not.  On Sept. 28, Medvedev fired Luzhkov from China by issuing a “loss of confidence” decree, the first such decree of his presidency.

By firing Luzhkov, Medvedev reached an important milestone in his quest to clean the ranks of regional governors.  In January, he accepted the resignation of the president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiyev, who had held the post since 1991.  Shaimiyev was followed, in July, by Murtaza Rakhimov, since 1993 the president of Bashkortostan. Like Luzhkov, Shaimiyev and Rakhimov held tight control over their regions and were not shy to flex their political muscles in the face of the federal center.  Incidentally, all three were co-founders of the ruling United Russia party.

However, while Shaimiyev and Rakhimov were reasonably popular in their respective regions, Luzhkov was not: A recent poll showed that more than half of all Muscovites disapproved of his performance.  In this respect, Luzhkov joins the company of Georgy Boos, former governor of the Kaliningrad region.  In August, Boos wasn’t reappointed for a new term because of the lack “of sufficient trust [for him] in the region.”

Regional governors in Russia are appointed by the president, and so far, Medvedev has shown no desire to return to the old system of direct elections, so the popularity of the governors in the regions shouldn’t in principle matter much to the Kremlin.  And yet, by refusing to reappoint Boos (whom many call a capable administrator) and by firing Luzhkov, Medvedev seems to be sending an important message: In the future, governors will be judged not only by their loyalty to the federal center, but also by their approval ratings among the local population.

In the weeks to come, Moscow will resemble a disturbed beehive (to invoke Luzhkov’s favorite hobby) buzzing with anxiety, rumors and Monday-morning-quarterbacking. The question du jour is obviously the name of Luzhkov’s successor.  Later, longer-term issues will come to the forefront of analysts’ attention, such as the potential impact of the succession on the 2011-2012 Duma and presidential elections.

But even today, it’s clear that by firing Luzhkov, Medvedev may have won the hearts and minds of millions of people—in Moscow and across the country—who would be willing to see him re-elected in 2012.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Luzhkov: The Last Of The Mohicans

  1. You forgot to add Kirsun Ilyumzhinov to your list of former presidents/governors for life who aren’t — to their surprise,no doubt — any more.
    I think Med/Put are simply getting rid, one by one, of people who think they own their jobs.

  2. Congrats on your recent appearances abroad Eugene.
    You bring into play the issue of how a good number of non-Russian observers view the Russian president having the ability to replace the presidents of the Russian republics, as well as people holding office similar to the mayoral position that Luzkhov had. In some circles, this situation is simply spun as a lack of democracy encouraged from the political center. This belief appears to downplay at least one key variable.
    Several years back, when local autonomy was constitutionally decreased in Russia, I suggested a loose comparison on the historically fine line concerning a responsibly strong federal government and reasonably applied states’ rights in the US.
    For some, states’ rights has been a kind of code for abuse. At the same time, it’s not ideal to have an overbearing center doing unreasonable things.
    The first few years in post-Soviet Russia saw areas with the greatest autonomy being among the most abusive on civil rights and some other issues – thereby making “free and fair” elections in these places difficult.
    Post-Soviet Russia is still in political development – a point acknowledged by the highest of levels of Russian officialdom.
    One of the key points you raise relates to how Muscovites at large aren’t up in arms against Luzhkov getting replaced.
    Best,
    Mike

  3. As you know Eugene, the case has been presented that it was appropriate for the top of Russian government to intervene with some firmness to offset the chaotic situation in Russia, following the Soviet breakup.
    I recall reading that the late Milton “Free to Choose” Friedman said that there was a reasonable basis for the Russian government to intervene against what was occurring.
    After a prolonged period, there’s the expectation (at least by some) that matters (such as what’s being discussed) can be gradually loosened in a way leading to something resembling a more efficient system of “Checks and Balances.”
    This isn’t to suggest that Russia should be a carbon copy of the US or for that matter China. The “Eurasia” term suddenly comes to mind.
    On a somewhat related note that’s of possible interest:
    http://stossel.blogs.foxbusiness.com/2010/09/30/web-only-segment-of-tonights-show-why-vote/
    This show airs on Fox Business as opposed to Fox News. An example of where some agreement can be found.
    Best,
    Mike

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Patrick,
    I’d even predict that if the direct elections do come back, they will come with a term limit.
    Best,
    Eugene

  5. Leo says:

    Eugene,
    I am not sure I agree that Luzhkov lost his political shrewdness. In my opinion, he just had enough. Let me pretend that I am Luzhkov for a second. I am 74, have led one of the world’s premier cities for 19 years, I am very well off myself and through my affluent wife. My children are in London, my assets are in Vienna. With all this, would I agree to continue to take s**t from Putin whom I never liked or that little teddybear that Putin installed at the helm? I am not some Shaimiev to cowardly retire, so I challenge you kids to fire me.
    We typically assume that lust for power is insatiable, it may not be necessarily true for veteran politicians.
    All the best,
    Leo

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