Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Popov accused of bailing out

Gavriil Popov, the symbol of Moscow in the post-Communist era, has left his turbulent mayor's post in order to campaign for political reform on the national stage, a spokesman said Monday.

Popov's departure, announced Friday, is widely viewed as another sign of the retreat from power of radical reformers.

President Boris Yeltsin accepted Popov's resignation over the weekend and named the mayor's deputy, Yuri Luzhkov, to head city hall until new mayoral elections are held.

The voting will take place within three months.

Popov, 56, stepped down at the end of a week in which Yeltsin sacked his reformist energy minister and made three more conservative officials deputy prime ministers.

Popov's spokesman, Sergei Stupar, attempted Monday to deflect criticism of the outgoing mayor for abandoning ship, saying that he was stepping down to lobby for changes in the Russian Constitution as the chairman of the Democratic Reform Movement.

"Popov knows that Moscow is not an island", Stupar said. "No economic reforms in the city can be complete as long as they are opposed on the national level. That is where the most danger to reform is".

But Vasily Shakhanovsky, a top Popov aide, told the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the mayor resigned because he felt support for his reforms slipping in the Yeltsin administration.

"Popov does not see any way to carry out his political and economic plans in the current situation", the newspaper quoted Shakhanovsky as saying, "nor does he feel he has the

support of the Russian president and government".

Popov's departure was viewed by progressives as particularly egregious following the removal or demotion last week of some of Yeltsin's key reformers.

"The young Cabinet of minister-experimenters, which propelled the country into the bright capitalist future in January, has been effectively removed from real management of the government", the weekly television news-in-review show "Itogi" commented.

Mikhail Leontiev of the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, concurred.

"The agony of the Gaidar team is the beginning of the political agony of Yeltsin himself", he said. "The important people in the Yeltsin government are now the representatives of major lobbyist structures".

Stupar said Popov planned to organize a national referendum on the Constitution, which would call for the immediate dissolution of Parliament and the establishment of a national constituent assembly as the country's new representative branch.

In an ordinary city, Stupar's explanation that Popov has left the mayor's office to fight a greater battle on a national level would make sense, given the mayor's time- and energy-consuming power stalemate with the City Council.

But it raises questions in a city whose leader is traditionally one of the country's most powerful figures - namely why Popov was unable to conduct his referendum drive from his position as mayor, and what he will be able to accomplish once he leaves that position.

Although the mayor cites a Russian law forbidding party leaders to hold high executive office as a motivating factor in his choice, it is more likely that popular discontent over the mayor's reforms has undone Popov, who won easily in the city's first mayoral election last year.

Rising prices, continuing shortages, and allegations of corruption - some of them aimed at Popov - have all led to the erosion of public confidence in the mayor. Popov's opponents in the City Council and among private businessmen have added to what political analyst Leonid Radzikhovsky calls Popov's lowest popularity rating ever.

In his resignation statement, Popov repeated his commitment to developing a market economy through rapid privatization, the legalization of private property, and the establishment of a powerful executive branch.

While Yeltsin and Popov agree on this last point, the president has opted for compromise with the legislature, especially by naming Vladimir Shumeiko, a deputy speaker of Parliament, as first deputy prime minister.

In contrast, Popov has become increasingly intolerant of representative power - the Soviets, or local governing councils - which are dominated by conservatives. While Parliament has become bogged down by hardliners on every piece of legislation concerning the transition to the market economy, the city and local councils have fought every significant measure proposed by the mayor.

"We must overcome the last remnant of the totalitarian regime - the total power of the Soviets on all levels - and elect normal representative organs", Popov said in his statement.

City Council deputies, who on Friday passed a resolution to regain control of executive power, welcomed news of the mayor's resignation.

"There is one less criminal in the city", said deputy Victor Kuzin.

Whether the City Council will have an easier time with Luzhkov is another question. The new acting mayor, despite recent criticism of Popov, is no less committed to reformist policies than his predecessor.

Stupar, for one, thinks the new mayor will continue the policies of the old.

"Luzhkov will continue Popov's reforms", he said. "Things will pretty much stay the same".