Mayor Luzhkov: My Moscow's On a Roll

It was a big year for Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov by any estimation -- especially his own.


At a year-end news conference Friday, the man who was bestowed last fall with the title, "Honored Builder," detailed his accomplishments of the past year and promised even better things to come as Moscow celebrates its 850th birthday in 1997.


Luzhkov's look back at 1996 left little room for modesty.


He won an election with 90 percent of the vote. He pledged to pull one of the world's biggest auto manufacturers out of economic quicksand. He built churches and statues and apartment buildings. He even dipped his feet in the heated political waters of Sevastopol.


The new year is expected to see the completion of the Christ the Savior Cathedral and the Manezhnaya Ploshchad shopping center, as well as the further development of Park Pobedy at Poklonnaya Gora.


"Moscow will have three great new public spaces -- one spiritual, one social, and one memorial," Luzhkov said.


The mayor said Muscovites can also expect their housing situations to improve. In 25 districts, said Luzhkov, new apartments will be constructed to replace pyatietazhki, dilapidated five-story buildings that sprang up during the Khrushchev years; inhabitants of these old buildings will be given apartments in the new structures.


"We'll just wipe them from the face of the land," Luzhkov said of the unsightly, aged structures.


He said the ruined downtown shopping area of Gostiny Dvor will also be restored. "[It] had become a dump, a repository for criminal groups, the pits of the city of Moscow," Luzhkov said, "and now we're fixing it."


Meanwhile, the city hopes next year to complete "the largest roof in the world" -- a retractable roof, at that -- over Luzhniki Stadium.


The reconstruction of the zoo is also slated for completion. "It will be one of the most comfortable zoos in the world, for man and beast," Luzhkov said.


With a good portion of the city budget targeted for traditional public and social services, in addition to the construction of schools and health clinics, Luzhkov has had to cooperate with the private sector in order to get his showcase projects accomplished.


"We had to find all the new possibilities given by the market economy," said Luzhkov, widely known for what might be termed creative arm-twisting in his dealings with city businesses.


On Friday, for example, he Luzhkov was upbeat about the economic situation in Moscow, where the official unemployment rate -- despite having increased near the end of 1996 -- is still at a low 0.8 percent compared to the rest of Russia.


Luzhkov said that Moscow's economy is so stable that federal Duma members are envious. "They act like, since the nation as a whole is having problems, there shouldn't be a region that functions normally," he said.


Luzhkov conceded that there are some local problems. Chief among them, he said, is crime and foul air.


Overall crime fell 4.5 percent in 1996, according to Luzhkov. "But we have nothing to brag about," he said. "You can only see this improvement through an electron microscope."


On the pollution front, Luzhkov announced plans to form an environmental police and court system.


On the international front, he discussed his conversation Monday with President Boris Yeltsin -- one of the first such meetings upon Yeltsin's return to the Kremlin after a six-month absence because of heart trouble.


Luzhkov said the president looked fine. He said he shared his views with Yeltsin concerning the fate of the port of Sevastopol, which Luzhkov believes should be part of Russia, and not Ukraine.


"There are some Ukrainians who don't want to discuss this issue," Luzhkov said. "If they don't want to discuss it, that means they feel their weakness, wrongness -- that they know they took something that is not theirs."