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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Targets City Police Chief

Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo has asked President Boris Yeltsin to fire the Moscow police chief in what appears to be an attempt by the Kremlin to weaken Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov ahead of the mayoral and parliamentary elections.

Luzhkov, viewed with mistrust by Yeltsin's inner circle, has been the target of a propaganda war from Kremlin-controlled news media.

He is leading the Fatherland-All Russia bloc in campaigning for the Dec. 19 elections to the State Duma, or lower house. He is also running for re-election in the mayoral election, set for the same day.

The removal of chief NikolaiKulikov, considered a Luzhkov prot?g?, would be a political defeat for Luzhkov - a blow to the mayor's image as a strong and influential statesman who can protect his allies.

Rushailo, the country's top police official, told reporters Monday night that he expects the "question" of Kulikov's removal to be "resolved" by Yeltsin "in the nearest future" - even though the Moscow police chief refused to submit his resignation at an earlier meeting of top law enforcement officials.

Rushailo has criticized Kulikov for not preventing deadly terrorist attacks in Moscow, including two apartment building bombings that killed more than 200 people. Kulikov drew the harshest criticism after the second explosion, when news media reported a Moscow policeman had checked the building and found nothing suspicious.

Rushailo's deputy, Igor Zubov, then conducted a review of city police operations and found them wanting, saying police failed to guard properly the city's vital facilities and apartment buildings.

Zubov said at a Tuesday press conference that the city police's commanders have turned a blind eye to what he called the massive covering up of crime in order to inflate statistics on closure rates.

Kulikov claims closure rates of more than 80 percent, Zubov said. Similar closure rates, however, are reported by police forces of other regions, yet most of their chiefs have retained their posts so far.

Kulikov has "lost control" of the situation in Moscow, Zubov said.

Luzhkov said Tuesday that neither he nor the Moscow City Duma will endorse the removal of Kulikov. He also said a joint appeal to Yeltsin by the city government and Duma has been drafted to protest results of the Moscow police check "which were set beforehand."

"We are not scared of reviews," Luzhkov said. "We see a determination to check everything and to find something."

Federal authorities require the local chief executive's endorsement to fire or appoint a regional law enforcement chief, according to Russian laws. The president can, however, suspend a regional law enforcement official and appoint his candidate as acting chief, Zubov said.

During their review, Interior Ministry inspectors planted a fake bomb near the wall of the city police's Ulitsa Petrovka headquarters. They also said they managed to rent an office at Moscow State University from a Chechen to plant another fake bomb and roamed past police patrol cars with grenade launchers and guns sticking out of their vehicles' windows.

Video footage of the officers carrying out the review was shown on government television, which tends to support the Kremlin. Questions were soon raised, however, about whether it presented a fair picture.

Nongovernmental NTV television, more sympathetic to Luzhkov, said the film of the Moscow metro in the broadcast was actually old footage shot by the Diggers, a group of enthusiasts who like to clamber around underground spaces.

NTV also showed an interview with a Moscow patrol officer who said he stopped the Interior Ministry agents and let them go when they produced ID showing who they were.

The Federal Security Service also said it planted fake bombs in several Russian cities totest the vigilance of local law enforcers. Only one, in Ryazan, was found before it was timed to go off, yet chiefs of these regions' police forces have not been asked to step down.

Luzhkov also faces a federal review of the city tax police office and of Moscow city prosecutor Sergei Gerasimov. More than 40 officials from the federal Prosecutor General's Office and regional prosecutors' offices arrived at Gerasimov's office last Friday for a surprise inspection.

An official in the office, who asked not to be identified, said inspectors focused on how effectively the city prosecutor's office investigates terrorist attacks in Moscow as well as serious crimes such as murder.

The official also said the check will focus on how strictly the Moscow prosecutor's office monitors the local police.

Luzhkov has already seen his police chief and top prosecutor sacked once before over his strong objections. Moscow police chief Vladimir Pankratov and city prosecutor Gennady Ponomaryov were fired by Yeltsin over the unsolved murder of television personality Vladislav Listyev in 1995.

Luzhkov, then an ally of Yeltsin, threatened to resign if the two law enforcement chiefs were fired, but later backed away after reportedly winning a promise that his own prot?g?s would be installed.