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Analysis & Opinion
17.02.11 A Humble Servant
By Andrew Roth

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is assuming yet another of his predecessor’s duties as he steps into the role of the head of the ruling United Russia party’s Moscow branch. Sobyanin, who was offered the position on Tuesday by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, accepted it, but did not say whether he will also appear on the party list in the parliamentary elections set for December. As he continues to develop his authority as mayor of Moscow, Sobyanin must keep onside with the powers above him – and in an important interview with the Echo of Moscow Radio Station he maintained a careful position that suggested he would not be upsetting the power vertical anytime soon.

Fourteen journalists crammed into a recording studio for the nearly two-hour interview to ask Sobyanin about his experiences as mayor, his plans to fix the city’s transportation and infrastructure issues, and to pose some softer questions about his personal daily routine. Yet when he was asked whether he has his eye on the presidency in the future, he stated directly: “No. I’ve never had such ambitious plans or career ambitions. Honestly speaking – never.”

Politicians, not just in Russia, are regularly coy about their political intentions, and Sobyanin’s demurring should not be taken at face value. His statement that he lacks political ambitions while accepting a position as a leader in an important political party presents a clear contradiction, said Alexander Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information. “It’s enough to look at similar statements by other politicians, including a young Dmitry Medvedev, who also said that they did not have further ambitions, or even want to become the president. Sobyanin basically avoided the question. He said that it hasn’t entered his plans. But if he’s asked to do it, will he really say that he won’t? He didn’t rule out such a possibility here.”

Whether or not he has his eyes set on more powerful positions, however, the key to the mayor’s political future remains retaining the favor of his superiors, including Vladimir Putin, who installed him in power in Moscow. His obligation to them will take precedent over any personal political goals, said Alexander Morozov, director of the Center for Media Research at the Institute of Cultural History and an influential blogger on politics. “I think that Sobyanin will not put his name on the ballot for the presidency. In Putin’s system, when a person is placed in a position, he works for a long time in the same place and has to achieve some set results. Sobyanin has been placed as the head of Moscow, and he needs to fulfill quite a large program that will take him several years.”

The dangers for Sobyanin if he climbs too quickly are all too clear, given the experience of his ousted predecessor, Yuri Luzhkov. Luzhkov’s accumulation of power and wealth as Moscow’s mayor since 1992 was matched by his spectacular fall from favor last year. Since then he and his wife have become the target of corruption probes and have claimed harassment by the government. Just today the offices of Inteko, a company owned by Luzhkov’s wife, were raided in a probe connected to the theft of 13 billion rubles ($444 million), which were found in her bank account, local reports alleged on Thursday.

While Sobyanin has so far played his hand carefully as Moscow’s new mayor, he is nonetheless thinking politically and looking to the future, said Mukhin. By appearing yesterday on Moscow’s liberal radio station, “Sobyanin is positioning himself as independent. In order to do this he needs to give interviews not only to the pro-Kremlin press, but also to the opposition. It’s a telling move, and it’s possible that the press could become an important political instrument for him.”

Sobyanin still has not fully developed his political persona as Moscow mayor, a fact called to attention by a reporter from Echo of Moscow who asked him about his lack of exposure or calls for order during the nationalist riots on Manezh Square earlier in the year.

Sobyanin doggedly cast himself as the anti-Luzhkov – a manager, and not a political figure. “In general I’m against the idea that mayors of cities or parts of the executive, leaders of subjects should position themselves as politicians,” he said. “There are too many problems in a city to practice politics.”
The source
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