President Medvedev apparently informed Viacheslav Volodin, a top United Russia party official, at least a week ago that he intended to rid Moscow of Yuri Luzhkov. Volodin told Gazeta.ru, “The President’s decision wasn’t discussed. It was fulfilled.” At 8AM this morning, it was indeed. (See Presidential order here.)
I certainly called this one wrong. On a personal level, I’m very glad I was mistaken. As a ‘Russia Watcher,’ whoops! Everyone else: 1, AGT: 0.
One wonders now what’s to come next: The mayor’s immediate replacement, Vladimir Resin, is actually a few months older than Luzkov (both were born in 1936!). Until today, he was his First Deputy Mayor. This is a transitional appointment, and someone else will be anointed next year, when Luzhkov’s term would have been up. The mayor may have blown his chance to get an ally made his successor, or he may get somebody along these lines despite his poor sportsmanship, in order to preserve peace among the Moscow elites. Politolog Evgeny Minchenko thinks that, at a minimum, criminal charges against Luzhkov are on the horizon.
As Jesse Heath (who admirably saw this coming a long time ago) at The Russia Monitor has already pointed out, skeptics about Medvedev will rush to argue that Dmiti Anatolyevich was merely an assassin hired by Vladimir Putin. Indeed, people immediately highlighted the fact that Medvedev told Putin about his decision to fire Luzhkov before he actually did it. This, it will be claimed, was Vladimir Vladimirovich handing down the order or the permission to go ahead. Or perhaps it was President Medvedev merely conveying a piece of information. We weren’t present for the interaction (however it occurred), so it’s impossible to know how it went down. We will all be keeping a close eye on the nature and tone of their “blood brotherhood” in the coming days.
I agree with Heath that this is further evidence that Putin will not be returning in 2012 as president. Before Luzhkov’s ouster, I believed that, while not planning a return, Putin wanted to at least keep the option open and the future opaque. But I also thought that allowing Medvedev the boost he would obtain by dismissing the Moscow mayor was something Putin couldn’t stomach. Given his silence on the Luzhkov affair (and his apparent approval, until we learn otherwise), it is clear that Russia’s Prime Minister realized it would actually limit his 2012 options to diminish Medvedev by keeping Luzhkov. Assuming that Putin would have preferred not to arouse such a speculation game about 2012 a full two years prior, I would guess that Vladimir Vladimirovich did not plan this ouster. The important thing though is that, when faced with a chance to either reiterate his political dominance (by defending Luzhkov or firing him himself) or allow his tandem partner the political spotlight with a high-profile dismissal, Putin chose the latter. By ousting Yuri Luzhkov, Dmitri Medvedev takes a step closer to becoming United Russia’s 2012 presidential candidate, and Vladimir Putin takes a step back.