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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Tells Luzhkov He Can't Retire Yet

Itar-TassPutin inspecting a model of the Kurkino district as Luzhkov, right, watches.
President Vladimir Putin hinted Tuesday that Mayor Yury Luzhkov might stay on after his term ends in December, telling him that it was too early to retire.

Opposition politicians in the City Duma and State Duma said Putin's remarks suggested that the Kremlin had decided to keep Luzhkov in office to help deliver votes in parliamentary elections in December and in the presidential vote in March.

Putin praised Luzhkov during a visit to the recently built Kurkino district in northwestern Moscow and said the mayor still needed to find ways to provide young families with affordable housing and deal with defrauded homebuyers.

"I believe that first you should start solving these problems, and then we can talk about a change in your activities, but a little later," Putin told Luzhkov, Interfax reported.

Putin said he would like to see all of the city's problems "solved as effectively as in Kurkino."

Luzhkov was elected to a third four-year term in 2003. Under a 2005 law that abolished gubernatorial elections, Luzhkov could have to seek the president's blessing for another four years sometime before his current term ends. Putin's nomination would then have to be approved by the City Duma, which is dominated by Putin supporters.

Alternatively, Luzhkov could wait for Putin to ask his envoy in the Central Federal District, which includes Moscow, to select two candidates for the job and submit them for his consideration. The one whom Putin picks would then need to be approved by the City Duma.

Luzhkov, who previously has ruled out a new term, made no public comment Tuesday on whether he would seek to stay in office. Vedomosti reported in April that Luzhkov would seek Putin's blessing that month, while said Tuesday that he had made the request in the spring.

Officials in Luzhkov's press service did not answer the phone Tuesday evening. A Kremlin spokesman declined to comment.

Sergei Nikitin, a Communist deputy in the City Duma, said the Kremlin needed Luzhkov to deliver votes for United Russia in the State Duma elections and victory for Putin's preferred successor.

"I think the president meant exactly that when he talked of the unsolved problems that Luzhkov faces," Nikitin said. "After that, Luzhkov will not be needed."

Andrei Metelsky, head of the City Duma's United Russia faction, which controls 28 of the chamber's 35 seats, said in April that the deputies would support a new term for Luzhkov if Putin nominated him for the post.

United Russia leader and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said late last month that he hoped Luzhkov would top the party list for Moscow in the State Duma elections

Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said Luzhkov's reappointment would match the political trend of leaving governors in their posts.

"The essence of the deal is simple: Governors are reappointed in exchange for the loyalty to the Kremlin," Ryzhkov said.

If Luzhkov left office, it would deal a serious blow to United Russia in its efforts to sweep the State Duma elections, said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center of Political Technologies.

But Makarkin said Luzhkov would still be needed after the elections had passed to ensure a "calm and predictable situation in Moscow" for the next president.

"There are fears of an Orange Revolution," he said, referring to the street protests in Ukraine that propelled then-opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to power in 2004.

Election results would be more difficult to predict without Luzhkov because 7 percent of the country's population lives in Moscow, said Dmitry Oreshkin, head of Merkator, a think tank.

In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin appointed Luzhkov as mayor of Moscow. Since then, Luzhkov has thrice been elected with overwhelming support from voters.