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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Eager Luzhkov, Politics Takes No Holiday

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov stretched out in his chauffeur-driven limousine, smiled beneficently and remarked what a pleasant time he had during his 45-minute t?te-?-t?te with U.S. President Bill Clinton in the Rose Garden.


"He is a very good listener," Luzhkov said of the U.S. president. "He really tries to understand you."


This scene from "The Russians Are Coming," a documentary of the mayor's recent three-city U.S. tour that aired nationwide Saturday, capped a remarkably visible week for Luzhkov.


Along with fresh shots across the bow of potential political rivals, the broadcast and trip also have journalists and analysts buzzing that Moscow's worst-kept secret has finally been revealed -- the mayor intends to be Russia's next president.


Billed as an exclusive behind-the-scenes chronicle, "The Russians Are Coming" was in effect reminiscent of a Soviet-era propaganda film, with an off-screen commentator gushing over the 60-year-old's skills, both on the soccer field and in City Hall.


"His candidacy is so evident now, it is getting a little bit indecent," observed Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the INDEM think tank.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta declared in a banner front-page headline Monday that the mayor is nearly finished picking his campaign team. "Yury Luzhkov has almost completed a team that is able to work both in the Kremlin and the White House," or Russia's government building.


Luzhkov wasted little time since returning to Moscow from Chicago, where he met with local business leaders. The mayor used the May Day holidays to set himself up in stiff opposition to Yeltsin's new reform-minded Cabinet.


First, he blasted liberal Russian political figures like Yegor Gaidar for opposing a union treaty with Belarus that is now a subject of debate.


Then, he accused President Boris Yeltsin's pro-market reformers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov of selling Russia to Western interests.


"What looms above these people is an influence which comes from a source we have nothing to do with," Luzhkov told a gathering of World War II veterans this weekend, although he cited no specifics.


Finally, he declared that Moscow will not be subject to the housing reforms, now being championed by Nemtsov, under which all state subsidies for municipal services would be eliminated by 2003. By staking out a populist position, he stands to benefit from the anger likely to be generated by the higher charges levied on millions of Russian families.


Even Nemtsov, himself a potential presidential candidate once Yeltsin's term expires in 2000, seemed taken aback by Luzhkov's gusto.


"Tens of trillions of rubles are being wasted in the sewage system or incinerated in boiler rooms," Nemtsov said on television Sunday. "What motivates [the critics] is a puzzle to me. Perhaps their fleeting political ambitions served as the basis for such talk."


Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Fond Politika, said Luzhkov's statements also illustrate how difficult the Cabinet's task of reforming the economy really is.


"Luzhkov is holding his line," Nikonov said. "This is also an example of how far Chubais' team is alienating a large segment of Russia's politicians, or practically all politicians who do not belong to the new establishment."


Luzhkov's stance should play well with reform-weary Russians. Many observers are convinced that the mayor is now judiciously staking out his niche in the political spectrum.


Former general Alexander Lebed, who has openly declared his presidential ambitions, said last weekend that he views Luzhkov as his only serious rival.


Korgonyuk said Luzhkov's ideology places him "somewhere between Lebed and the Communists." But, he added, the mayor has "few political convictions because he does not need them. He believes in institutions that he can rule with an iron fist."


Luzhkov has steadfastly denied he is eyeing Yeltsin's post. He did so again in the documentary, broadcast on RTR's "Top Secret" show, saying he passed up the chance when it was open to him in the past.


Analysts said the mayor will not jeopardize his current easy access to the president by openly declaring his candidacy so early in Yeltsin's second term.