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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paper Says Luzhkov May Soon Lose Job

In what appears to be another episode of the continuing battle between the Kremlin and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, a major news daily has predicted that Luzhkov will soon be squeezed out of office along with his most loyal aides.

Luzhkov immediately dismissed the report as "nonsense" and accused Kremlin insider and political power broker Boris Berezovsky, who owns the paper, of being behind the article.

The unsourced story in Wednesday's issue of Kommersant claimed Luzhkov has reached an agreement with the presidential administration guaranteeing him immunity from legal prosecution in exchange for his resignation. The alleged deal is redolent of the immunity granted by President Vladimir Putin to his predecessor Boris Yeltsin hours after Yeltsin's resignation in December.

There was no immediate reaction by the Kremlin.

The story said Luzhkov's resignation would be preceded by wide-scale dismissals in the city government in an attempt by the Kremlin to transfer power to Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev, whose powers have been increasing steadily since late last year and whom the Kremlin perceives as potentially more compliant than the ambitious Luzhkov.

The paper predicted that the first city officials to go would include some of the most loyal members of Luzhkov's team, but ones who had had conflicts with Shantsev. Kommersant identified the prime candidates for dismissal as Oleg Tolkachyov, the man in charge of property and land issues; Vladimir Resin, a deputy mayor in charge of construction and development; Deputy Mayor Iosif Ordzhonikidze; and the head of the department for consumer goods and services, Vladimir Malyshkov.

In a televised interview on NTV, Luzhkov dismissed all of Kommersant's allegations as "nonsense," "provocation" and the "ravings of a madman."

"The publication was ordered by Berezovsky and those people who are ? interested in the destabilization of the situation in Russia," said Luzhkov in a pre-taped interview for his TV Center channel, according to Interfax.

The mayor accused those behind the publication of trying to sow discord in the city government using a divide-and-conquer technique, defiantly adding his reply to his enemies: "You won't ever seeit happen!"

Some political analysts said there might have been more truth to the publication than the mayor cares to admit, but they were circumspect in assessing the radical scenario described by Kommersant.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika think tank, who is considered close to Luzhkov, called the idea of the mayor's resignation "too farfetched."

"Luzhkov is still far too powerful to be removed that easily," Nikonov said. "But there is no smoke without fire.

"Clouds are indeed gathering over the heads of some of the members of the city government."

Nikonov f who described the relationship between the Kremlin and the mayor as a "cold peace" f allowed for the possibility that some city officials might be "sacrificed" in the ongoing battle for control of the capital.

"But for that to happen the pressure would have to come from the highest level," he said.

According to a source at the mayor's office who asked not to be identified, the publication came as somewhat of a surprise.

"Although from time to time the likelihood of Luzhkov's removal from office would increase, now that didn't seem to be the case. ? In fact, right now Luzhkov's relations with Putin and the Kremlin seem to be rather calm and almost cooperative," he said.

Relations between the Kremlin and the mayor's office f which became especially confrontational during last December's parliamentary elections f have been a roller coaster of conflict and reconciliation in recent months.

Prospects of peace seemed to set in after Putin's recent visit to Italy, on which Luzhkov accompanied him as a part of the official delegation. Local media reported the mayor was granted a three-hour audience with the president on the way back to Moscow, and Luzhkov radiated optimism after the trip, predicting a quick settlement to the thorniest issues between the city administration and Kremlin f including the future of the city's TV Center channel.

The frequency used by TV Center is set to be put up for tender Thursday and is widely perceived as a litmus test of the relationship between Luzhkov and the presidential administration.

But last week local media reported that the State Building Committee, or Gosstroi, has proposed that Moscow land on which buildings housing federal institutions now stand should become federal property. According to this plan, the state would also get adjacent property, including potentially lucrative construction sites.

If implemented, the plan could deal a big financial blow to the city, since the takeover would deprive the municipal budget of some hefty revenues.

A similarly unfriendly mood has settled over the protracted dispute over former Moscow city police chief Nikolai Kulikov, a Luzhkov ally who was dismissed in December by Yeltsin from the post of deputy interior minister.

The long legal wrangle over Kulikov's dismissal ended in May when the Presidium of the Supreme Court ruled that he should not be reinstated.

Tuesday, news agencies cited Luzhkov as saying that Putin had signed a decree reinstating Kulikov, but the former city police chief submitted a letter of resignation immediately thereafter. Nevertheless, Luzhkov expressed his gratitude to the president for "clearing Kulikov's good name."

But on Wednesday, a Kremlin spokesman denied that Putin had signed such a decree, Interfax reported.

Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with Carnegie Moscow Center, said Kommersant's publication was indicative of a new style of political relations in the country, marking an end to the power-sharing deals and "bureaucracy ethics" that dominated under Yeltsin.

"Then, political foes were able to reach gentleman's agreements: ? Luzhkov would have been forced to abandon his ambitions as a federal-level politician, but would have gotten to retain his power over Moscow," Ryabov said.

"I'm afraid we're entering a phase when no politician will be sure of his place anymore. The only thing that's worrying is that a political system where everybody lives in constant anxiety over his nearest future simply cannot function," he concluded.