Many are regrouping around the magnetic mayor ofMoscow, Yuri Luzhkov, whose new “Fatherland” movement held itsfirst congress last month. Some Western commentators compareLuzhkov to Chicago’s late Mayor Daley, saying his methods may berough but he gets things done. Others say he is tied to Russia’scriminal gangs. Luzhkov himself vigorously asserts his lack ofideology and even of principle, calling himself above all anadministrator.
Luzhkov, whom Yeltsin appointed mayor in 1992, kept Moscow out ofthe 1992-1993 privatization program. As a result, seven of everyten Moscow jobholders work for the city or for a city-ownedenterprise. Luzhkov retains personal control over the rental ofmuch of the city’s commercial property and the bidding out ofmany city concessions. Those arrangements are the source of muchof the city’s revenue, and perhaps of the rumors of ties betweenthe mayor and Russia’s criminal empires.
Luzhkov assiduously cultivates key governors in Russia’s regions.(Moscow has the status of a region, and Luzhkov sits with thegovernors in the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’sparliament.) He favors Great Russian rhetoric, calling for thereturn of Crimea from Ukraine to Russia and insisting on specialprotections and privileges for the Russian diaspora–the 25million Russians in independent states that were part of theformer Soviet Union.
Luzhkov won election to a second term as mayor in 1996 with 90percent of the vote and leads the field with 37 percent supportin a recent presidential-preference poll. But despite hisexcursions outside the city, it is Moscow’s prosperity which isthe source of Luzhkov’s popularity, and that prosperity is now atrisk.
Like Russia’s central government, the city of Moscow is nowrunning a deficit in its accounts. The city government owes about$1.3 billion in foreign currency, and the cost in rubles ofservicing that debt has more than tripled since the rublecollapsed last August. At the same time, city revenues arefalling as the economic crisis spreads. A Western credit-ratingagency comments, “the situation may deteriorate with the returnof hyperinflation.” Luzhkov will have to cut spending, perhapsdramatically. That could cut deeply into his popularity and pushhim toward an even more voluble and extreme nationalist line.