Putin's right-hand man approved as mayor of Moscow, cements Russian leader's influence on city

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's chief of staff was named the new mayor of Moscow on Thursday, cementing the powerful Russian leader's influence over the capital and its sizable chunk of the nation's wealth.

Sergei Sobyanin was approved by the city legislature in a near unanimous vote, seen as a mere formality because of his connection to Putin. He replaces Yuri Luzhkov, who was fired by President Dmitry Medvedev last month after 18 years in office.

Luzhkov has made clear he believes the true reason behind his ouster was the Kremlin's desire to have a more pliant mayor before next year's parliamentary elections and the 2012 presidential vote, which Putin is widely expected to reclaim.

Putin, a tough-talking former KGB lieutenant colonel, is seen as continuing to call the country's shots and is more popular than his protege and presidential successor. While Medvedev has named some of Russia's regional governors, Sobyanin's appointment again demonstrates Putin's sway in filling the nation's top jobs.

Luzhkov, who opposed Putin's move to cancel direct election of governors, was the lone holdover from the turbulent 1990s when regional leaders held broad sway.

His removal clears the way for the redistribution of Moscow's vast wealth. He ruled over a building boom that gave his construction mogul wife a stranglehold on much of the city's money, giving the capital a modern facelift but destroying many of its precious landmarks.

Speaking to city legislators before Thursday's vote, Sobyanin criticized the former city government for inefficiency and corruption, without naming Luzhkov, and promised to cut Moscow's notorious red tape, create better conditions for investors, improve Moscow's congested roads and give a boost to education and health care.

Immediately after the vote he attended a Cabinet session where Putin presented him with a medal and said he expects him to be as successful as mayor as he was on the previous job. Sobyanin underlined his loyalty, saying that "even though I'm no longer a member of the Cabinet, I will remain a member of your team."

The 52-year-old was born and raised in oil-rich Western Siberia. He had risen through the ranks to become the governor of the Tyumen region before Putin named his Kremlin chief of staff in 2005.

When Putin anointed Medvedev as his preferred successor in the 2008 presidential vote, Sobyanin was chosen to run his campaign. Putin then placed Sobyanin in the key position of the Cabinet chief of staff, with the title of deputy prime minister.

Members of Putin's United Russia party, which has 32 of the city legislature's 35 seats, praised him, and only two Communists voted against Sobyanin, who was appointed to the post by Medvedev.

Luzhkov on Thursday harshly criticized United Russia, where he held a senior position, for kowtowing to the Kremlin. "This is a servile party, and I quit it," he said in a lecture to university students Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency.

Source: AP News

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