People will look back on this day as a major turning point in Medvedev’s presidency. As I wrote back in May, “Simply put, guys like [Luzhkov] need to go, or Medvedev will run the risk of looking weak and naive.” Today, Pres. Medvedev claimed his first major scalp in the form of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, the consummate political survivor with a machine that would make a Daley blush. I can already hear the analysts working to explain how this, once again, proves that Medvedev actually has no power and that Putin is returning to the presidency in 2012. I will say what I’ve always said – Putin is not coming back and today we are witnessing the best proof so far. A few facts I think are worth bearing in mind:
- This was clearly Medvedev’s idea, though I am sure he had Putin’s blessing at some point in the endeavor
- Medvedev fired Luzhkov, a symbolic exercise of presidential power that adds significance to the event (vs. a resignation brokered in back-room negotiations presumably presided over by Putin)
- Medvedev has to have people he can trust to replace what was Luzhkov’s power base (his own independent power base)
- Medvedev’s use of the state-run mass media showed how all the ponyatiya and unwritten rules in the world won’t save you from a half-week-long character assassination on Russian television (others be forewarned…)
For the definitive background on Luzhkov, I recommend the chapter bearing his name in David Hoffman’s The Oligarchs, available for free here on Google Books.