Usually a picture of unity and harmony, the Moscow city government this week put on a lively show of discord involving the capitals top officials. Aside from pure political entertainment value, the squabble suggests internal disputes in Mayor Yury Luzhkovs team could soon take an active turn.
It all began when longtime Luzhkov ally Viktor Resin, responsible for the citys construction department, which controls large flows of money, was reporting on his sectors successes. Suddenly Luzhkov himself intervened, brandishing a wad of letters complaining about the quality of construction work and photo evidence to boot.
Resin, taken by surprise, it seems, retorted that the photos were fabricated by Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev. Shantsev looked shocked, while Luzhkov continued his ranting and asked Moscow Prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov to carry out a thorough check of the citys construction sector. Then Luzhkov caused a new stir when he later asked Avdyukov to do something about the owners of "rakushky," the cheap and lightweight metal shells that many Muscovites install in their buildings yards to protect their cars. Building a real garage is far more costly and requires official approval. The city authorities want Muscovites to buy places in municipal garages, but at up to several thousand dollars a place, the option is beyond the reach of most people.
The Moscow authorities have battled with the "rakushky" in the past, sometimes simply removing them, provoking their owners to go to court over violation of property rights. But much to Luzhkovs dismay, instead of jumping to attention, Avdyukov told the mayor that property rights had to be respected and that he intended to do something about the city authorities arbitrary violations of citizens rights.
With such a whiff of scandal in the air, the rumormongers remembered the Moscow mayoral election is due in December with the Duma elections. All kinds of potential candidates are being named, including far-fetched proposals such as Irina Khakamada, deputy speaker in the Duma. In reality, the election will be far less exciting. Luzhkov will run for a third term with Kremlin backing, and that will settle the race. The action is in the battle among Moscows influence groups for places on Luzhkovs team and a handle on the citys assets for the next four years.
The conflict between Resin and Shantsev is nothing new. The municipal construction sector is a juicy pie, but Shantsev is not so much trying to dislodge Resin as he is trying to counterattack an attempt made by the latters people to undermine his own position, by contesting the legality of the fact that the deputy mayor is an elected official. Though it was supported by the Moscow courts, the Central Electoral Commission dismissed the claim. Shantsev, in turn, met with Luzhkov to convince him of his loyalty, while at the same time sowing seeds of doubt about just what his rivals were up to. Its not clear whether Luzhkov and Shantsev will remain together through to the elections at the end of the year, but its still too early to write Shantsev out of the equation. What does seem a safe bet is that the internecine strife in the Moscow city government is just beginning.
NTV-Gazprom: Miller takes time-out
The federal authorities are also having their share of trouble. One of the most public is the ongoing standoff between NTV journalists and the channels new management.
The journalists, led by Tatyana Mitkova, Leonid Parfyonov and Savik Shuster, gave Gazprom what amounted to an ultimatum to replace new NTV General Director Nikolai Senkevich and his first deputy, Alexei Zemsky, with more acceptable candidates. So far, no new appointments have taken place. Alexander Dybal, the head of Gazprom-Media, which owns NTV, wanted tough measures taken against the people who signed the letter to Gazprom, but so far this hasnt happened either. What has happened is that Media Minister Mikhail Lesin and other prominent figures in the broadcasting community have become involved.
Lesin met with Gazprom head Alexei Miller early in the week, explaining that the situation has reached a crisis point and that, as he put it, "the NTV team is the most valuable asset." Miller then met with Parfyonov and Mitkova, who made no comment afterwards, but their colleagues said, "judging by their somber looks, no agreement was reached." Miller than headed on a trip to Bulgaria, suspending the whole saga for a couple of days. Meanwhile, proposals for a different first deputy general director for NTV are being discussed. Gazprom will likely leave Senkevich in place to save face, but Zemsky could be sacrificed. One likely replacement is Rafael Akopov, former General Director Boris Jordans first deputy who resigned along with his boss.
A number of prominent TV professionals have already refused, not wanting to be deputy to Senkevich. One way out could be for the shareholders to create the position of chairman of the NTV board of directors, give the job to Senkevich and invite a professional to take his place as general director. With even Lesin lined up on NTVs side, Miller isnt having an easy time, especially as hes the one who must answer to President Vladimir Putin. And it certainly isnt part of the Kremlins plans to lose its hold on an important broadcasting and financial resource in an election year. When congratulating Miller on his birthday a week ago, Putin is said to have made it clear that he may make his own decisions, but will have to answer personally for them.
[Ekaterina Larina is assistant editor of The Russia Journal. E-mail Katya at firstname.lastname@example.org.)