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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Sets Out on a 5th, Uncertain Term

Sochi Bid CommitteeAn artist's impression of the hockey arena that will be constructed in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the Games.
Mayor Yury Luzhkov is to be inaugurated Friday for his fifth term in office, but whether he'll serve out his latest four years is another question altogether.

Political analysts and City Duma deputies say Luzhkov and other senior officials could be replaced after the State Duma and presidential elections by officials handpicked by the Kremlin.

Luzhkov and President Vladimir Putin have cinched a long-negotiated deal on division of powers and financial resources in the country's wealthiest region, analysts said.

Under the deal, they say, Luzhkov will stay on to deliver votes to pro-Kremlin party United Russia in State Duma elections in December and to the candidate Putin will back in the March presidential election but leave office for a senior post in the federal government after the elections.

"Luzhkov has agreed with the Kremlin that he handles the elections and puts all his financial affairs in order before being replaced by a Kremlin nominee," said Mark Urnov, head of the Expertiza think tank.

City Hall and Kremlin spokespeople Thursday refused to comment on possible personnel changes in the city government, dismissing such talk as "rumors" and "speculation."

"No such information has reached me, which means this information is not circulating anywhere [in City Hall]," City Hall spokesman Yura Aidinov said. "Nobody knows what will really be happening there."

Luzhkov, 70, is heading up the United Russia ticket in Moscow for the State Duma elections and could step down as mayor in one year or two to become speaker of the State Duma, said Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information.

Putin has placed former colleagues, friends and acquaintances from his native St. Petersburg in numerous senior government positions, and analysts said someone from the northern capital could be tapped to replace Luzhkov.

The current presidential envoy to the Central Federal District, Georgy Poltavchenko, a Former KGB officer and former senior tax official in St. Petersburg, has long been seen as a likely successor to Luzhkov, Mukhin said. There was a "particular irony" in the fact that Poltavchenko introduced Luzhkov's nomination last week to the City Duma, which duly approved the mayor for another term, Mukhin said.

Due to a 2005 law that scrapped popular elections for regional heads, it was the first time in a more than a decade that Muscovites did not directly elect their mayor. Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center of Political Technologies, said, however, that Luzhkov would likely be succeeded by someone from his own team. "This would be most convenient for Putin's successor, who would be weaker than Putin and have no interest in changes," Makarkin said.

Luzhkov's inauguration Friday could also be the beginning of a major reshuffle at City Hall in which Kremlin-backed officials would replace Luzhkov's current team, City Duma deputies and analysts said. City laws stipulate that Luzhkov must dismiss his government on the day of his inauguration, and a reshuffle could be used to pave the way for Luzhkov's eventual Kremlin-backed successor to a senior City Hall post, said Yevgeny Bunimovich, a City Duma deputy from Yabloko.

United Russia Deputy Alexander Krutov refused to comment on a possible shakeup.

The Kremlin may be pondering whether to begin replacing Luzhkov's team before or after the State Duma and presidential elections.

Bunimovich said an immediate reshuffle would appear more natural, while Communist Duma Deputy Vladimir Ulas said bringing in Kremlin-backed officials before the elections would weaken Luzhkov's team and its resources to deliver votes for United Russia and Putin's preferred successor.

Due to Moscow's financial resources, the Kremlin is keen on ensuring its own people are placed in key positions, Urnov said. Mukhin said Luzhkov's team would be replaced after the presidential vote, as Putin's successor will need time "to get a feel for his new role."