Putin's chief of staff is anointed as Moscow's likely new mayor

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The Independent Online

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's chief of staff was nominated yesterday as Moscow's next mayor, a move seen as bringing the capital's sizable political and business interests under the direct control of the Kremlin.

The Moscow city legislature has to approve the nomination of Sergei Sobyanin, which is widely seen as a formality. It also locks Mr Putin's grip on power ahead of presidential elections in 2012. President Dmitry Medvedev put forward Mr Sobyanin's name.

Mr Putin appointed Mr Sobyanin as his chief of staff in 2005 during his first presidency, and hasn't ruled out another term. The Prime Minister has been the dominant leader in a ruling tandem with his protege Mr Medvedev, and does not appear to want to recede from politics as speculation mounts about which of them will run for president.

Mr Sobyanin is set to replace Yuri Luzhkov, who was dismissed by Mr Medvedev last month after 18 years in office.

If confirmed, the appointment would bring the Kremlin control over politics and money flows in the capital: Mr Luzhkov was one of the last remaining power bases in Russian politics not under the direct influence of the Kremlin.

"This is very difficult work, with a lot of responsibility," Mr Medvedev told Mr Sobyanin in a televised meeting. "But you're up to it."

Mr Sobyanin, who can be counted upon to get out the Moscow vote for the ruling United Russia party as one of its highest-ranking members, was enthusiastic in response.

"For me, this is a big responsibility and vote of confidence, and I'll do everything to justify it," Mr Sobyanin said. "I've been living in Moscow for a few years and I know the issues it faces. A lot has been done in the last few years, but at the same time there are serious problems that need solving immediately," he said.

Mr Medvedev said a reason Mr Sobyanin was nominated was that "Moscow should be completely integrated with federal authorities, so confidence can be maintained".

Mr Sobyanin promised to work closely with the federal government.

The President gave a "loss of faith" as his motivation for firing Mr Luzhkov, after the 74-year-old mayor criticised Mr Medvedev in a newspaper article. He suggested that Mr Luzhkov, or at least his staff, may face investigators over alleged corruption during his time in office.

Mr Medvedev said that among Mr Sobyanin's priorities was rooting out graft, an area in which "very little has been done in recent times, and in several situations schemes were used that should, as a minimum, be checked for their compliance with the law".

The President also charged Mr Sobyanin with making Moscow more open and competitive for business, and addressing the capital's perennial traffic problems.

Mr Sobyanin, 52, was born and raised in oil-rich Western Siberia. Before Mr Putin brought him to Moscow he had risen through the political ranks to the chief of the Tyumen region. He headed Mr Medvedev's presidential campaign staff in 2008.