, MOSCOW, Sep 28 – President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday fired Moscow\’s strongman mayor Yury Luzhkov, dramatically ending an 18-year rule that transformed the Russian capital but also attracted bitter controversy.
The merciless sacking — one of Medvedev\’s boldest moves since coming to power in 2008 — came after the mayor was lambasted by the Kremlin for his aloof handling of the summer wildfire crisis that blanketed Moscow in smog.
A decree, published on the Kremlin web site, ordered Luzhkov, 74, to be "dismissed from the position of Moscow mayor because he has lost the confidence of the Russian president."
The terse decree, which comes into force immediately, appointed Luzhkov\’s deputy, Vladimir Resin, as acting mayor. It was published while Medvedev is on an official visit to China.
Kremlin officials said Luzhkov had been given time to go of his own accord but the mayor had refused to quit, forcing Medvedev into the extremely unusual move of firing a top regional leader.
"I, as president, lost confidence in Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov as the mayor," Medvedev told reporters in Shanghai where he is on the last stage of the China visit. "I do not rule out that such cases can happen again."
The president has the power to sack the leaders of Russia\’s regions and Medvedev has already replaced several long-serving strongmen in some of the most important regions in the country, most of whom left voluntarily.
"There are two ways a regional leader can leave his post before his term ends. He can leave voluntarily by announcing his resignation or with a harsher wording of loss of confidence," said Medvedev\’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova.
A source in the mayor\’s office told the ITAR-TASS news agency that Luzhkov found out about his dismissal as he was at his desk, preparing for a session of the city parliament later Tuesday.
Luzhkov\’s city hall controlled a vast budget of 36.5 billion dollars in 2010 as well as a property empire.
Skyscrapers and Western fashion boutiques and supermarkets sprouted up throughout Moscow under Luzhkov\’s rule as the capital sought to shake off its reputation as a chaotic "big village" and become an international centre.
But with infrastructure not keeping pace with its growth, the capital became blighted by horrendous traffic jams while most ordinary people could still only dream of shopping in its designer stores.
With the knives out for a figure who was for so long a central part of the Russian elite, ruling party United Russia also lost no time in turning on Luzhkov, once one of its top leaders.
"We regret that one of the founders of the United Russia party due to his own mistakes lost the confidence of the head of the state," Vyacheslav Volodin, a top United Russia official, said in comments on the party website.
In a move reminiscent of disgraced officials leaving the Communist Party in Soviet times, Luzhkov also resigned from United Russia, where he had served as a member of its upper council.
In a letter to the party, Luzhkov said he had been the target of a disinformation campaign by state media while United Russia had shown "no support" or desire to "stop the flow of lies and slander".
The mayor has long been dogged by corruption allegations over the business activities of his wife, construction billionaire Yelena Baturina, and has also been criticised by conservationists for destroying Moscow\’s historic centre.
Luzhkov also became a bete noire for the liberal opposition, sending in riot police to put down even small anti-government rallies and also describing gay rights rallies as satanic.
It remains to be seen how the move will be viewed by Medvedev\’s predecessor in the Kremlin and strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who had been noticeably more restrained in his attitude to the Moscow mayor.
Timakova emphasised that Putin had been informed of the decision before Medvedev signed the decree but gave no further details.