It's hard to imagine Moscow being run by anybody but Yury Luzhkov. But then again, it was hard to imagine Tatarstan being run by anybody other than Mintimer Shaimiyev -- until, of course, somebody else was running it.
There is little doubt in my mind that [PM Vladimir Putin] and [President Dmitry Medvedev] would like to remove Luzhkov, who has been able to operate as a more-or-less independent player in the capital for nearly two decades -- annoying three successive presidents in the process.
The problem is that while Medvedev could get rid or Luzhkov with the stroke of a pen, replacing him could literally become a bloody mess. The struggle for control of post-Luzhkov Moscow would likely descend into a vicious struggle among Kremlin factions for control of the economically lucrative capital. It could be the mother of all Kremlin clan wars, which is surely giving Putin and Medvedev pause.
It took about five months for Luzhkov to be "[relieved] of his duties as Moscow Mayor ahead of term" - by President Medvedev's Sept. 28 "executive order" - "in connection with the Russian President’s loss of confidence in him."
The subsequent discussion on the English-language Russia blogs focused as much on Putin and Medvedev (and their complex pre-election relationship) as on Luzhkov himself (and the future of his wife's business).
As Streetwise Professor wrote, "Kremlinology is back in vogue":
[...] You could argue that Medvedev and Putin are sufficiently confident in the stability of the country that it could withstand the messiness inherent in a transition to a new equilibrium. You could argue the reverse, that the political condition in the country is so fraught that Medvedev, or Medvedev and Putin, determined that extraordinary measures were required, even knowing that the immediate consequences bear their own risks for the system. You could argue that this is a unilateral political strike by Medvedev. Or you could argue the reverse yet again, that it is the result of an agreement between Putin and Medvedev.
In fact, I’ve seen people argue all of the above. Given the information at hand, the best we can do is advance hypotheses, and be sure to keep in mind that they are just that. It is very difficult to know exactly what is going on under the rug: what the dogs are fighting over, how the fight started, who is winning. [...]
Julia Ioffe wrote this in her Foreign Policy piece:
[...] Most voices have been praising Medvedev for proving his independence from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the man thought to be the real decider in this town. The theory goes that Medvedev wanted Luzhkov out but Putin wanted him to stay, causing a split behind the scenes. The fact that Luzhkov was fired, according to this school of thought, indicated that Medvedev won and Putin lost. [...]
But that explanation makes little sense [...].
Instead, Putin determined that Luzhkov needed to go and sent in Medvedev to do the dirty work, a move that not only knocks out a powerful rival but leaves his hands unsoiled in what has become a bloody fight. [...]
A Good Treaty responded to Ioffe's arguments:
[...] Ms. Ioffe’s central thesis is that firing Luzhkov does nothing to boost the power of President Medvedev, and that the entire bonanza was the “dirty work” of Vladimir Putin. She argues that people are wrong to say that Medvedev won and Putin lost. [...]
This is a scarecrow argument insofar as it assumes the relationship between the tandem partners is a zero sum game. Characterizing this interplay as a win/lose scenario forgets the fact that Vladimir Putin himself gave Medvedev his biggest credibility boost of all by promoting him as his successor. [...] The reelection of Medvedev, while far from predetermined, is a very real option under Putin’s consideration. That being reality, it’s over-simplistic if not foolish to dismiss the growth of President Medvedev’s influence on the grounds that it assumes his every advance comes at the expense of the Prime Minister. Medvedev’s gain is Putin’s gain, as it adds credibility to the tandem’s junior partner and preserves the choice ahead for 2012. [...]
Whitmore wrote this on The Power Vertical:
[...] Luzhkov's removal was not, as some media have reported, a sign of a split in the ruling tandem. And it was most certainly not, at least as far as I can see, a "victory" for President Dmitry Medvedev over Prime Minister (and national leader) Vladimir Putin.
It seems pretty clear at this point that Putin was on board with the decision to sack the Moscow mayor. [...]
The Ivanov Report wrote:
[...] [Luzhkov] picked a fight he could not win, and he did not.
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.
Vilhelm Konnander pointed out a rather inconspicuous yet important St. Petersburg connection:
[...] The struggle between Russia's two capitals, Muscovites and Pitertsy, is a major theme in Russian politics, that also Putin's road to power is part of. As a protegé of erstwhile St. Petersburg mayor, [Anatoly Sobchak], Putin is likely never to forget how instrumental Muscovite interests were for defeating Sobchak back in 1996, and the dire consequences this had for himself. Ever since, the Pitertsy have been longing to get back at Luzhkov, barely succeeding to keep him at bay in the 2000 presidential elections that brought Putin to the Kremlin. Of course, this is common knowledge for anyone following Russia. What is interesting is how little this has been the focus of attention recently. Instead, Luzhkov's dismissal is predominantly interpreted as part of a struggle between Medvedev and Putin for the 2012 presidential elections. [...]
The Pipeline had a quick look at Luzhkov's "last weeks" in office, and, in a four-part series, dissected various aspects of the Sept. 28 dismissal, covering the reactions of the markets and Russian political elite, bloggers and ordinary Muscovites, providing an overview of potential candidates for the post of Moscow mayor, and examining the impact of Luzhkov's ouster on Moscow's real estate and construction market. Here's an excerpt from Part 2 of the series:
[...] Luzhkov’s sacking provided a harvest for satirists and comedians and viral photos are spreading throughout the Russian internet. One features a photo-montage of a refugee Yelena Baturina saying to a small Luzhkov, “Let’s go Yurka [a diminutive for Yuri], somehow we will survive on $3,000,000,000!”
On GlobalPost, Miriam Elder wrote about an interview with Luzhkov (RUS) that appeared in The New Times magazine:
[...] The interview [...] gets at the heart of the matter when the question is given on whether Luzhkov understands that Inteko, the multibillion dollar business belonging to his wife, Yelena Baturina, is likely under threat. It also shows the degree of Luzhkov’s self-delusion.
“You know, why we’re so calm? Whatever has been said or written, we are honest people. Inteko and Elena, that is, my wife, have an honest business — the most honest and most transparent of all those, well, at the very least, that run a construction business.” [...]
Vadim Nikitin of FPA's Russia wrote:
However disgracefully he was forced out, let’s get one thing straight: Luzhkov was a dirty crook. [...]
In a hypercentralised country like Russia where most of the national wealth resides in the capital, Moscow and Muscovites had always lived like kings compared to their compatriots, and it’s certainly no big achievement of Luzhkov’s that he managed to keep it that way. [...]
Power&Politics World wrote:
[...] The prosperous business of [Luzhkov] – Baturina couple were repeatedly in the Moscow media attention. But many Russians – especially Muscovites – preferred to turn a blind eye to that, sharing a typical stereotype that corruption is an inevitable concomitant of power. Luzhkov’s efforts in improving life in the capital and his efficiency as a manager were believed to be outweighing all the negative nuances. [...]
Dmitry Sidorov of The Putin State Chronicles made this prediction:
[...] It seems to me that the former mayor will be let go without cut marks in exchange for his “voluntary” public silence. I am guessing that his wife eventually will be kindly asked to sell her business at the price stated by a well-connected purchaser. [...]
Writing about the family business component of Luzhkov's story, Konnander mentioned Putin's deputy prime minister Igor Sechin:
[...] The question now is if Luzhkov has reached a settlement e.g. with Sechin, giving him some sort of immunity in an ordered exchange for his wife's business empire, or if we will witness something similar to what happened to [Yukos]. [...]
Whitmore also made a mention of Sechin in his post about Luzhkov's dismissal:
[...] It does appear, however, that the decision to remove Luzhkov was opposed by Putin's powerful Deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin. [...]
In a follow-up post, he wrote that "Medvedev's real rival in the ruling elite is not Putin but Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin."
And Streetwise Professor, too, wrote in his Luzhkov post about another developing story that features Sechin:
[...] Sechin’s threat to invade Gazprom’s turf represents a major challenge to the status quo. [...] This is the Russian equivalent of Bugs Moran’s North Side gang hijacking Capone’s South Side gang’s bootlegging trucks. And we know how that turned out. (Chicagoans still hear about it on trips abroad:) [...]
Interestingly, Chicago entered the Luzhkov story through the front door, so to say, too - thanks to its mayor, Richard Daley, in a post titled A Tale of Two Mayors on Poemless (as well as in Ioffe's earlier Foreign Policy text, titled Moscow's Mayor Daley). Here's the closing section of the post by Poemless:
[...] While it’s popular to bemoan the joke that is the democratic process associated with Russia or Chicago, I hear few people complain that they’ve been robbed of the chance to vote their leader out of office. While a new era begins, and reform and “real politics” seem at least more possible now than it did a few months ago, I don’t see many people dancing in the streets. I hear lots of talk about legacies. About looming criminal investigations. About architecture and city planning. And, as if we’d regressed into ancients who’d just witnessed a comet, I hear people, bewildered, ask what it all means, and keep their fingers crossed that everything continues to work. Like those ancients, we will find new leaders, good or bad. The earth will keep turning. [...]
I suspect it will be some time, however, before we find a new Daley or Luzhkov.