Print options

October 20, 2010

Putin's Chief of Staff Becomes Mayor of Moscow

by James Brooke

Our correspondent reports on what this appointment says about power of Russia's PM and what it means for Moscow

Vladimir Putin's chief of staff is now Moscow's new mayor.

Sergei Sobyanin, a native of a Siberian village, is little known to Muscovites, having lived here for only five years. But he spent those five years as chief of staff to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - and that was enough for him to be appointed Mayor of Moscow.

It was a smoothly choreographed ascension. Moscow's city council dutifully - and overwhelmingly - approved Sobyanin, the Kremlin's choice. Then, came an inauguration ceremony led by President Dmitry Mevedyev, the new mayor's nominal sponsor. Then, "live" on national television, an award ceremony with the mayor's patron, Prime Minister Putin.

After Russia's prime minister and president, the Mayor of Moscow is widely seen as the third most powerful official in the nation. He rules the capital of the world's biggest energy exporter. Greater Moscow now contains 10 percent of Russia's population and one quarter of its $1.2-trillion economy.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that with a close Putin confidante now starting a five year term as Moscow's mayor, it is clear where power really lies in Russia today.

"Vladimir Putin has been and will continue to be Russia's paramount politician," he said. "He is the one calling the shots."

Or, as Vedemosti newspaper, wrote: "Soybanin is a 100 percent Putin man, and it is to Putin that he owes his federal career."

Moscow's new mayor grew up in a village deep in the snows and birch forests of northwest Siberia. He has said he learned to cross country ski before he learned to walk. As a teenager, he picked up a lifelong hobby - hunting game in the Siberian taiga, or forest.

After rising through the ranks of the regional Communist Party youth, he rose through post-Soviet political posts, winning election in 2001 as governor of his native Tyumen region, Russia's key oil producing area. Tyumen city has one of Russia's highest per capita incomes, and is the twin city of America's oil capital - Houston, Texas.

In Moscow, Sobyanin worked behind the scenes, helping Dmitry Medvedev, his predecessor as Putin's chief of staff, to win presidential elections in 2008.

Hours before his inauguration, he gave his only public campaign speech - before the 34 members of Moscow's City Council.

Attacking Moscow's twin evils of corruption and bureaucracy, he said: "I am convinced that corruption and bureaucracy may devalue nearly all or even all the competitive advantages of Moscow. Obviously, this city needs a more open and efficient administrative system."

Before the City Council vote, Andrei Klychov, a Communist Party council member, said of the Kremlin's nomination of Sobyanin: "In reality, Muscovites don't have a choice. Everything has been decided behind closed doors."

A few minutes later, Klychov and another Communist council member voted against the appointment. With all United Russia party members voting in favor, the Mayor of this city of 10 million people was easily elected - 32 to 2.