Moscow Mayor Debacle Threatens Entire Country

Posted on September 24, 2011

Noteworthy this week was a “Shakespearean drama”  playing itself out in Moscow.

Tuesday’s dramatic toppling of long-time Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov was positively Shakespearean in character – a stage-managed political slaying of a seemingly untouchable party boss who presided over the capital “like some kind of Mongolian khan”, as one foreign observer put it. For Russians, the affair provided an echo of Soviet-era putsches and purges. For outsiders, it was a timely reminder that Russia is not a normal country.

As Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, prepares to follow the Obama administration in attempting a “reset” of relations with Russia, this latter thought is worth holding on to. For all the talk of modernisation, reform and defeating corruption, the fiefdom of the so-called “power tandem” – prime minister Vladimir Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev – remains a very foreign land of dark forests, hidden currents and murky deeds.

If Medvedev, Luzhkov’s nemesis, cast himself as the Macbeth of Muscovy, he fumbled the part. “If it were done … then t’were well it were done quickly,” the brooding regicide tells himself. But Medvedev hesitated, failing to act when Luzhkov first questioned his authority. When he did finally wield the axe, it was only because Putin, reportedly, gave the green light. And then he failed to install his own man as mayoral successor.

Even if the allegedly corrupt, enormously wealthy Luzhkov goes quietly, the affair could still backfire on the relatively liberal-minded Medvedev, the interlocutor of choice for many western governments. “It is the first genuine crisis faced by the system of power that was created by Putin – because a schism in Russia’s ruling party could split the country’s elite into different factions,” Der Spiegel commented.

“Knocking down Luzhkov presents a danger to the entire political and economic structure in Russia,” said Alexei Bayer in the Moscow Times. “For the past decade Russia has been producing massive corruption, successfully turning top government officials and well-connected entrepreneurs into Forbes A-list billionaires.” The political system was tightly and rigidly interlinked with this officially sanctioned sleaze, he said. “If such an important, huge link in the corrupt chain as the city of Moscowis tinkered with, the entire state edifice might come tumbling down.” [The Guardian]

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