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".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer (PHP & Wordpress) - Central London

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Web Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Law Firm - Bromley

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Market...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee