Quite understandably, there has been a lot of hype around the replacement of Yuri Luzhkov. United Russia announced the list of candidates on 11 October. That means that Dmitry Medvedev will choose one of them by Monday. Or will it be one? Brian Whitmore on RFE/RL convincingly argues that the ruling tandem is about to reproduce the same structure in the capital, putting an “executive” premier under the future mayor. I cannot but agree with the obious benefits of a structure like that, and I must also take note of the very cautious approach Russian leaders have been handling this problem with. However, I have some reservations about the lineup the article suggests.
First, let’s take a look at the list of candidates! Sergey Sobyanin, we all know very well: the golden candidate, whose name has already been mentioned last year, long before the actual dismissal of Luzhkov. He has almost 20 years of various experience in administration, having led smaller cities and the Tyumen oblast as well. He is a man of Putin, but he is also trusted by Medvedev – having served as the deputy head of the latter’s modernisation commission – to put it short, he’s perfect. Strange things happen sometimes, but this time, it would be surprising if he did not get the job.
The sole problem with Sobyanin is that he’s an outsider. Fortunately, two of the other three candidates on the list do not have this problem. Lyudmila Shvetsova has been Luzhkov’s long-time colleague and Valery Shantsev, a former vice-mayor of the capital, and since 2005, the governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region. The fourth candidate is quite a riddle: the minister of transport Igor Levitin neither has experience in local administration, nor is he particularly integrated in Moscow – apart from the fact that transport is one the greatest problems of the Russian capital. Besides, he is said to be unlikely to give up a ministrial portfolio for the mayorship.
Whitmore draws attention to media speculation about a Moscow tandem consisting of Sobyanin and Shantsev. The latter’s appointment would undoubtedly aim at consolidating Sobyanin’s – and the other tandem’s – rule in Moscow. Shantsev knows whom to fire, how to fire them, and would also be able to convince those who stay to act wisely and in accordance with the government’s wishes. However, for a powerful and ambitious man like Shantsev it might seem awkward to be relegated to a secondary position.
I think many miss the point here: a tandem in the capital is not like the state-level tandem. Instead of being able to rely on his own former colleagues and build his own little groups of balanced power, Shantsev would be required to fire most of them. He might try to play the role of a “Moscow Putin”, but that would possibly be against the interests of his state-level rulers, and that would undoubtedly leave to some inconvenience. Apart from that, a mutual frustration between two ambitious possible leaders of the capital is the least United Russia needs before the 2012 elections.
I argue therefore that the appointment – or rather, the conservation – of Lyudmila Shvetsova as the future mayor’s deputy is a far more stable choice. This possibility of her brokering a deal between the old and the new guard was brought up even by Russian media some weeks ago. Shvetsova is a “safe” politician, with an undisrupted carreer in the Moscow administration and no visible ambitions that might be dangerous for the stability of the capital. Both are valuable assets. While Sobyanin would deliver the loyalty towards the country’s rulers, Shvetsova could do the job, consolidating the position of the new masters of the house, while alleviating the damage the dismissed and quite fiery Luzhkov may possibly do. In some years, she might even be comfortably dismissed and transferred to a quite, but well-earning position. These are exactly the qualities of a good public servant, arent’ they?