Putin ally favourite for Moscow mayoralty

Conservative nationalist Sergei Sobyanin is free from allegations of major corruption

As Moscow’s acting mayor, Sergei Sobyanin has curtailed the city’s building boom, made improvements to its infrastructure and is perceived to be free of the corrupt practices that have bedevilled Russian society. Photograph: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

As Moscow’s acting mayor, Sergei Sobyanin has curtailed the city’s building boom, made improvements to its infrastructure and is perceived to be free of the corrupt practices that have bedevilled Russian society. Photograph: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

Mon, Sep 2, 2013, 01:00

After the presidency it’s possibly the most powerful job in Russia. The campaign for mayor of Moscow was in full swing until late on Saturday evening when the city was hit by a massive rainstorm that soaked the campaigners, drove the candidates off the streets and was still raging 24 hours later.

Not that the favourite, Putin-ally Sergei Sobyanin, has done much street campaigning. He doesn’t have to. His term as acting mayor since 2010 has been popular and free from allegations of major corruption.

This and his profile as the Kremlin’s favourite has made him a near-certain winner over his nearest rival, the anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny who, when the election is over, will have to concentrate on appealing a four-year prison sentence for alleged sharp business practices.

Firm favourite
In the latest poll, issued yesterday by the reliable Levada Centre, Sobyanin is shown as having the support of 58 per cent of voters who say they will definitely vote next Sunday and have decided on who they will support. Navalny, under the same criteria, has 18 per cent with the Communist candidate Ivan Melnikov on 12 per cent and the other candidates trailing.

Moscow, according to the recently published UN “State of the World’s Cities” report, has a population within the city limits of 10.6 million, two million more than that of London. But the true population may be considerably higher. With its official urban agglomeration of 14.6 million and a constant influx of migrants from countries of the former Soviet Union, many statisticians have given up on compiling an accurate figure. Some have estimated that 17 million live in the urban spread, making Moscow Europe’s only true megalopolis.

The urban area has roughly the same population as the Netherlands but no Dutch politician has anything like the powers of Moscow’s mayor. His writ (there are no female candidates) may officially run only as far as the official city boundaries but his decisions affect everyone who lives in the vast built-up area.

Sobyanin’s predecessor Yuri Luzhkov ran the city for almost 18 years until he was summarily dismissed by then president Dmitriy Medvedev, officially for “lack of trust” and amid accusations of corruption by state-controlled media.

His mayoralty was marked by a massive building boom during which his wife, Yelena Baturina, who ran a construction company, became Russia’s richest woman. Ms Baturina, who owns the Morrison Hotel in Dublin, was rated by Forbes Magazine as having a personal wealth of $4.2 billion in 2008.

Sobyanin (55) curtailed the building boom, made improvements to the city’s infrastructure and is perceived to be free of the corrupt practices which have bedevilled Russian society. This poses a problem for Navalny as an anti-corruption candidate against an opponent who is not seen as corrupt.

No liberals
On the other hand Sobyanin is no liberal on social issues, having banned not only the Moscow gay pride parade and forced the cancellation the city’s St Patrick’s Day parade in 2011. The St Patrick’s Day parade returned in 2012, but the gay pride event remains outlawed and Sobyanin has come in for continuous criticism from LGBT organisations.

But liberal views are not popular in Russia, a country that emerged from the Soviet Union in 1992 and has not been subject to the gradual liberalisation process experienced by western countries. Navalny is no liberal either. His avowed nationalism and trenchant views on immigration and migrants would brand him a right-winger if he ran in a western European election.

The only western-style liberal democrat in the race, Sergei Mitrokhin of the “Yabloko” party, has strongly criticised Navalny as an “adventurer”. Navalny has also come in for criticism from leading anti-Putin demonstrator Yevgeniya Chirikova for his lack of an effective environmental programme.

Mitrokhin’s rating in the latest poll, at just 6 per cent, is a measure of the support for western-style liberalism in today’s Russia. Nikolai Levichev of the left-of-centre “A Just Russia” party who set the police on Navalny with an accusation of “illegal campaigning” has 4 per cent in the Levada poll.

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