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Since he was fired by President Dmitry Medvedev last Tuesday, Luzhkov has shown up to work promptly at 8 am. Every day. Like clockwork.
He has also given an interview — a three-hour one, filled with insider anecdotes, pledges to his unassailable character and even a Jewish joke — to the opposition magazine The New Times, published Monday, apparently in full. (The magazine’s site has been down all day, whether because of high traffic or something more Russianly sinister, is unclear.)
Where to begin? Let’s get the serious stuff out of the way — Luzhkov says he’ll stay in politics, forming a movement (distinctly noting it will not be a political party). What will the movement fight for? “[T]hat the laws of a democratic society appear.” OK. Next. He says he won’t fight his dismissal in the courts (something he had earlier considered), because he doesn’t believe in the possibility of a fair trial. “I don’t believe that this Supreme Court will take a decision that would go against the president’s order,” he told the magazine. Does he understand that remaining in politics involves risks? “Of course. I’m not a baby after all.” Is he ready, then, to face prison? “Me? Of course not. I will fight for my honor, because I have it. And if someone wants to jail me, if there are reasons, then I’m ready for anything.”
OK, it’s already gotten a little funny. Luzhkov goes on: “Of course, I’m not ready to go to prison and I don’t plan to go, because I worked … honestly. I honestly served Muscovites. And in terms of that, no one can blame me of anything, that I did something in a criminal way.”
It’s amazing how the second someone in Russia falls out with the powers-that-be, their freedom-loving democratic instincts kick in (also amazing is how quickly the opposition-minded, perhaps aware of their own lack of influence, take these people in).
Suddenly the feeling among the opposition in Moscow is: “he may be a corrupt despotic a-hole, but he was our corrupt despotic a-hole” (Luzhkov was twice voted in as Moscow mayor before direct elections were abolished in 2004).
Luzhkov is playing into that with impressive political aplomb. During the interview, he manages to hint at the politicization of the trial against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a favorite opposition cause; boost the image of his power by implying he taught Medvedev about the importance of modernization and by exposing that he uses the familiar address when speaking to Kremlin chief idealogue Vladislav Surkov, while the latter refers to Luzhkov in the formal; he also says that while he may have banned Moscow’s monthly opposition gatherings (for, of course, purely technical reasons), it’s not he who orders the federal security services to regularly disband them with such aggression and violence.
Who knows what Luzhkov is playing at. The interview, Luzhkov’s first and only since leaving office (figuratively), gets at the heart of the matter when the question is given on whether Luzhkov understands that Inteko, the multibillion dollar business belonging to his wife, Yelena Baturina, is likely under threat. It also shows the degree of Luzhkov’s self-delusion.
“You know, why we’re so calm? Whatever has been said or written, we are honest people. Inteko and Elena, that is, my wife, have an honest business — the most honest and most transparent of all those, well, at the very least, that run a construction business.”
At the very least.
The ruling party, United Russia, is due to present candidates to succeed Luzhkov on Oct. 9 (this is, of course, a formality). Who knows what Luzhkov will get up to til then. For now, he appears to think he’s still mayor.
Towards the end of the interview, editor-in-chief Yevgenia Albats asks him if he thinks Moscow’s infamous traffic problem can ever be fixed. “We are doing a lot to build new roads. For example, we’re laying a new road — from Alabyan Street to Baltisky — along a current metro line.” No we’re not, Luzhkov. We were.