Mayor who fell foul of Kremlin flees Moscow

Politician 'caught in power struggle between Medvedev and Putin'

The powerful mayor of Moscow has departed the Russian capital for Austria amid a media campaign that many believe has been ordered by the Kremlin to discredit him.

As speculation mounted that Yury Luzhkov's sudden departure signalled the end of his reign, Kremlin sources told Russian news agencies that he "needed time to think" and was on a week's holiday. But there is little doubt that the row between Mr Luzhkov and the Kremlin, which has been simmering for weeks, has now spiralled out of control, into something reminiscent of the dirty political battles of the 1990s in Russia.

His wife yesterday claimed that the media campaign was aimed at sidelining the powerful Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and smoothing the path for the re-election of President Dmitry Medvedev in 2012.

The controversy surrounding Mr Luzhkov, who has run Moscow since 1992, began with a series of documentaries shown on state-controlled television in recent weeks, alleging that he is corrupt and responsible for multiple abuses of power. He was accused of spending more on helping to evacuate his personal bee collection than on helping ordinary Muscovites during a period of high temperatures and debilitating smog that struck the Russian capital this summer.

A separate programme aired over the weekend investigated the business dealings of his wife, Elena Baturina, who runs a construction company. She has repeatedly been forced to deny allegations that she has benefited from her husband's position as mayor.

The allegations against Mr Luzhkov are in no way new, but this kind of attack would not be aired on Russian television unless a command had been given from high up, and many suspected that Mr Luzhkov had fallen foul of either Mr Medvedev or Mr Putin.

Yesterday Ms Baturina alleged that the campaign against the Moscow mayor is being run from inside the Kremlin by supporters of Mr Medvedev. She said Mr Medvedev's team wanted to boost his chances of remaining for a second term at the expense of Mr Putin, who many still believe to be the most powerful man in Russia.

"There are two pretenders at the moment. And the question is open about who in fact will put themselves forward for the role of President in 2012," said Ms Baturina to The New Times, one of Russia's freest publications. The magazine said the interview was given over Skype from a private clinic in Austria. "There are people in the presidential administration who are scared that when the elections approach the mayor will support Prime Minister Putin and not President Medvedev."

Analysts are split on whether there is a real conflict between Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev. The latter often speaks in different, more liberal language, but he is expected to step aside in 2012 if Mr Putin wants to return. Whether or not everyone in his team would be happy about this remains uncertain.

Ms Baturina suggested that it was more likely people in his camp who wanted to make sure that their man stayed in the top job after 2012. She said it was an "enigma" why Mr Putin had so far remained silent.

For the past weeks there have been rumours of tensions between Mr Medvedev and Mr Luzhkov. When Mr Luzhkov criticised a decision to stop construction of a controversial new road, the Russian President tartly responded that "officials should either participate in building institutions or join the opposition".

Mr Luzhkov is the final remaining "heavyweight" regional leader who has survived in power since the 1990s. Most of these have been replaced, since Mr Putin abolished elections for governors in 2004 and made them directly appointed from the Kremlin. His current term expires next year, but the campaign suggests there are figures who want to remove him immediately.

With the mayor now in Austria, some Russian analysts suspect that he and his wife might not return to Moscow, choosing a comfortable life in exile over potential court proceedings in Russia.

"They've warned him that if he tries to answer these dirty charges in court, they will continue with more dirt," said Ms Baturina. However, she insisted that the couple planned to return to the capital in a week from now.

The political analyst Alexei Mukhin said that Mr Luzhkov no longer controls the city and is unlikely to return. However, in a sign that the battle might not be over yet, a television channel controlled by Moscow authorities promised last night it would show a response to the anti-Luzhkov films, proving that they were false and "made-to-order".

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London