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Russia's President Fires Iconic Moscow Mayor

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Russia's President Fires Iconic Moscow Mayor

Europe

Russia's President Fires Iconic Moscow Mayor

Russia's President Fires Iconic Moscow Mayor

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Moscow's mayor of 18 years has been fired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Yury Luzhkov garnered criticism in July when repairs to the main highway leading to Moscow's international airport created massive traffic jams. Reporter Peter Van Dyk talks to Ari Shapiro about the changes.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

One of the most powerful men in Russia has lost his job. The mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, has been fired of the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Luzhkov ran the city for 18 years, but he fell out with the Kremlin in recent weeks.

Reporter Peter Van Dyk joins us from Moscow.

Good morning.

Mr. PETER VAN DYK (Journalist): Good morning, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So why did Russia's president get rid of Moscow's mayor?

Mr. VAN DYK: Well, the two have been in dispute, on a lower level, for several months, if not longer, and that has come to a head over the summer. Mayor Luzhkov was seen as responding inadequately to the fires and the smog that surrounded Moscow. He went on holiday when Moscovites were choking on the smog in the city and there have been a couple of other issues. And then, in a newspaper article recently, earlier this month in fact, he was seen as being critical of President Medvedev, while suggesting that Prime Minister Putin perhaps ought to return to the presidency. After that, some national TV stations aired documentaries very critical of Luzhkov, and following that, there really was no going back. Luzhkov refused to resign, so Medvedev had to dismiss him.

SHAPIRO: I understand Mayor Luzhkov and his wife are very colorful figures in Russia. Can you paint a portrait of them for us?

Mr. VAN DYK: Well, they very much dominated the city scene for almost two decades. His wife, Yelena Baturina, has made billions of dollars from construction projects in the city. There's never been any wrongdoing proven, but it has allowed her to become what Forbes says is the third richest woman in the world.

SHAPIRO: And what does the mayor's dismissal tell us about politics in Russia? In the U.S., it would be inconceivable for a president to fire a mayor.

Mr. VAN DYK: Well, it says two things. One, the huge amount of power wielded by Russia's president. But also, the fact that Luzhkov has his own power base and is in fact, probably one of the very last regional leaders who does have a power base. So it was very important for Medvedev not to look weak in front of Luzhkov following his criticism. And with presidential elections coming up in 2012, its unclear whether it will be Prime Minister Putin or President Medvedev who run, and therefore, the votes from Moscow that Mayor Luzhkov could have delivered will now be secured by someone else. It remains to be seen who will be appointed, but it will be watched very, very closely.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Peter Van Dyk speaking with us from Moscow.

Thanks a lot.

Mr. VAN DYK: Thank you, Ari.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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