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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov defies Council 'Don't fight, City Hall', Khasbulatov says

The civil war in Moscow city government flared anew Monday despite an attempt by the Russian parliament speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, to reconcile the sparring rivals.


Jumping into the fray, Khasbulatov appealed for "agreement and coordination" between the executive and legislative branches of city governments in Russia. In Moscow, this clearly refers to the conflict between the office of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the Moscow City Council.


The war of words, accusations and contradicting resolutions between what amounts to two parallel governments has paralyzed reform in the capital.


Khasbulatov made his unusual intervention after the city council topped up its attacks on Luzhkov.


A rump group of city council conservatives passed a motion of no confidence in Luzhkov on Thursday, demanding the resignation of the mayor and his administration. This weekend, representatives of the mayor's office announced that Luzhkov would ignore the resolution and remain in office.


The power struggle in Moscow is representative of the ongoing conflict between reformers and conservatives on all levels of Russian politics. Officials in executive branch offices created during the past year, such as the mayor's offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg and the government of President Boris Yeltsin, tend to be reformers committed to democratic institutions and ideals.


Deputies of the institutions which make up Russia's legislative branch -- local, city and regional councils and the Russian parliament -- took office before the advent of free elections and, for the most part, owe their seats to their former positions in the Communist Party rather than to any deep conviction in democracy. Although many of these deputies now publicly embrace reform, the legislative branch as a whole has fought to slow down Yeltsin's free-market reforms.


As speaker of the parliament, Khasbulatov has clashed frequently with Yeltsin. While not a dyed-in-the-wool hardliner, he is viewed as the leader of the conservative opposition.


In the past, Khasbulatov has been a friend of the legislative branch on all levels, including the Moscow City Council. But with his call for cooperation Monday, he appeared to desert the Moscow deputies, who have become increasingly extreme in their opposition to the reforms proposed by the mayor's office.


Despite its apparent isolation, the council was not prepared to back down from its resolution.


"We have expressed our lack of confidence in Luzhkov, because in our opinion, he is a deeply corrupted individual", Alexander Popov, the council's press spokesman, said Monday.


Along with the vote of no confidence, the city council voted to ask Valentin Stepankov, Russia's public prosecutor, to start a formal criminal investigation into "indications of illegal activities" by the mayor. The council was referring to widespread but unsubstantiated press reports of corruption in Luzhkov's administration.


The council also appealed to the Constitutional Court to review the legality of Yeltsin's nomination of Luzhkov as mayor. In a television interview Friday, Yuri Sedykh-Bondarenko, the council's conservative deputy chairman, accused Yeltsin of violating the Russian Constitution by naming Luzhkov to replace Mayor Gavriil Popov earlier this month.


The city council's resolution also contained a threat: If the city administration fails to comply, presumably by disbanding itself, by July 10, the statement said, the council will cut off funds to the mayor's office.


"Legally, the city council has no right to pass such a resolution", Viktor Malinshchuk, a Luzhkov spokesman, said Monday. "If Yeltsin's nomination of Luzhkov were illegal, the Supreme Soviet would have canceled the decree. They did not, and we take that to mean that the nomination of Luzhkov conforms to the law".


In contrast to the city council, Luzhkov's corner is still supporting him. Yeltsin's intention to stand by the mayor was announced last week by Vladimir Kamchatov, the president's aide for city affairs. Picking up on that signal, a Luzhkov aide, Vasily Shakhanovsky, on Friday announced that the mayor's office would continue to rule the city "by authority of presidential decree alone" if it could not find a compromise with the city council.


Perhaps more telling is the history of Luzhkov's appointment. The mayor's office was created by a Yeltsin decree in April 1991. Popov was elected as mayor that June, but when Luzhkov was named to replace Popov this month, it was by a Yeltsin decree.


The strong opposition displayed by many city council deputies to the mayor's office is indisputable.


In its recently concluded month-long session, the council spent most of its time voting against decisions by the mayor's office, a fact city administration officials took no small pleasure in pointing out at a press conference on Friday.


In a recent article in the newspaper Pravda, deputies repeated accusations that the mayor's office was "selling large portions of central Moscow" to foreigners. The article was accompanied by a facsimile of a map of Moscow with a number central areas shaded out, which the authors said represented tracts of Moscow real estate that the mayor's office intended to sell.


But Mikhail Cheremis, deputy director of the Moscow administration's bureau of architectural planning, denied the allegations in the Pravda article. Cheremis presented The Moscow Times with documents proving that the map in the article actually contained information about pollution in central Moscow.


Overall, the mayor's office appears confident that it will prevail in the controversy. As for the threat that the city council would vote to cut off all finances to the government on July 10, Sergei Dontsov, the mayor's top legal adviser, said, "Like the whole resolution, this point does not stand up from the legal point of view".