Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 120

Some Russian observers are saying that the June 19 incident in which the Moscow regional military authorities refused to give Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov permission to fly by helicopter over neighboring Moscow oblast (to see how the growing season is going) marked a significant escalation in the conflict between Luzhkov and the Kremlin. The Russian Airforce apparently ordered the Moscow military district not to give Luzhkov’s helicopter permission to fly, saying that it was a matter of security, because President Boris Yeltsin was set to fly to Cologne, Germany the following day. Luzhkov said yesterday that he had requested the airspace a week in advance, while a spokesman for the airforce said that it had received no order to grant the airspace, and could not have granted it because doing so is the prerogative of the armed forces’ General Staff (Moscow Times, June 22; see the Monitor, June 21).

In comments aired by NTV television, Sergei Parkhomenko, chief editor of the weekly magazine “Itogi,” said that the incident may have been a warning from the Kremlin to Luzhkov that his political power extends no further than the capital’s borders, and that it [the Kremlin] has the power to limit Luzhkov’s campaign activities should he formally announce his candidacy in the presidential race (which he has not yet done). Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Foundation think-tank, said that the helicopter incident may have been a test carried out by the Kremlin to see whether the military would obey orders directed against Luzhkov (NTV, June 21).

It should be noted that NTV and “Itogi” magazine are part of the Most-Media group, whose founder, Vladimir Gusinsky, is said to be close to Luzhkov.

For his part, Luzhkov yesterday called the helicopter incident “outrageous” and part of an ongoing “anti-Luzhkov” campaign by the Kremlin. “It is,” he said, “a very dangerous precedent in our society and it shows that tension is escalating” (Russian agencies, June 22).

Another observer, Igor Bunin, one of Russia’s top political consultants, said that the battle between Luzhkov and Yeltsin is reminiscent of the battle which took place more than a decade ago between then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Yeltsin, who at that time headed the Soviet Communist Party’s Moscow branch (NTV, June 21).