With Sobyanin, Putin remains mayor of Moscow

Camille Grange, translated by Julie Richard
26 Juin 2013

The mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, announced his resignation on Tuesday, June 4th. Unsurprisingly, President Putin accepted it. This resignation is pretty much paradoxical as Putin himself will serve as “Acting Mayor”. So, is this a conspiracy or a carefully orchestrated strategy?

With Sobyanin, Putin remains mayor of Moscow
Sergey Sobyanin, 54, Vladimir Putin’s former principal private secretary, decided to quit his job as mayor of Moscow for a better coming back. His resignation was accepted on the evening of Tuesday 4th June by the leader of the Kremlin.
In office since October 2010, Sobyanin announced on the same day his intention to resign in front of the Civil Chamber of Moscow (consultative body to the Russian President) without mentioning any reason. The end of his term was scheduled for 2015.

Concocted elections

President Putin then announced that early municipal elections would be organized on 8th September, on the same day as the election of the Governor of the Moscow area. It is the first time in 10 years that the Muscovites will go to the polls to elect their mayor. Since 2004, the predecessors of Sobyanin became mayor of the Russian capital by being directly appointed by the President instead of being elected by the people.
In 2004, after the attacks in Beslan in the Northern Caucasus (hundreds of people, mostly children, were taken hostage in a school), Vladimir Putin decided to abolish universal suffrage elections of governors and mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Thus Putin and the Kremlin could choose and take control over the regional representatives of the two largest cities in the country.
It was not until last April that a law was passed stating that universal suffrage is now restored for the regional leaders’ election. It was a demand from the opposition protesters. Putin and his friends can therefore thank them, for once. Sobyanin represents a real transition from his predecessor’s policy, Yuri Luzhkov. Appointed by Dmitri Medevedev in 2010, he carried out many reforms and replaced most of the employees of City hall. 

A Russian strategy

According to the Moscow Times, Sobyanin, also a member of the United Russia party, said he took this decision “in a democratic spirit”. His announcement may show goodwill, it is rather strategic: it allows Sobyanin to ensure his election in September. Election and not reelection, as the mayor has been so far appointed by the incumbent President. Russian experts have stated that this change significantly increases the chances of Sobyanin to win elections. This arrangement would allow him to stay in power until 2018.
By sheer chance, his main opponents, the oligarch Mikhail Prokorov and blogger Alexei Navalny, have very little chance to participate in the election. The matter? They have become very popular in the Moscow region. Prokhorov came second in the presidential election in March 2012. He represents a serious threat. Sobyanin has therefore free time to campaign and ensure he is elected by the people of Moscow. It is impossible for the opponents to organize a successful campaign against Sobyanin within three months. These potential opponents are independent and have to go through strict procedures in order to be able to stand for elections. They must, among other things, collect the signatures of at least 6% of municipal deputies. According to Yury Zagrebnoï, political analyst and publisher of Mossovetinfo.ru information website, “it is impossible”. In this situation, Sobyanin –who has Putin’s support- has good chances to ensure a second term with no competition.
Le Journal International tried to interview the Moscow inhabitants. Few are willing to talk and for the others “this resignation is a complete farce, a conspiracy for money”. For Maria Andreeva, journalist in Moscow: "The decision to bring forward the elections has just been taken. But all citizens already know that this is an arrangement. This is a masquerade, opponents to Sobyanin will not have even a small chance to prepare and present their program." It is no secret that Putin uses Sobyanin as a puppet in order to have power over the capital city - one more political manipulation for Russians.
Ever since the big demonstrations in winter 2012 and the qualified results of United Russia in the general elections in November, Putin has tried to increase his power over the local authorities.
Even if he won the 2012 presidential elections with 63% of votes, his government has been shaken. Putin now prefers to watch his back in the country’s capital city by blocking the mobilization of opponents.