It has long been observed by biologists that intraspecific competition is among the most intense. This rule also applies to politics, as has once again been proven by the Kremlin. In the last few days millions of Russians, who after the silencing of the country’s last independent TV channel in 2003 have gotten used to docile reporting and constant eulogies to their leaders, were treated to a barrage of negative information about Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov — a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and co-chairman of the ruling United Russia party.
The three principal networks — Channel One, Rossiya, and NTV (all of them, naturally, controlled by the Kremlin) — aired reports and documentaries detailing the rampant corruption and abuse of power by the Moscow mayor and his billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina. Viewers learned that Mayor Luzhkov authorized a $4 billion “public-private partnership” with his own wife to develop commercial real estate in western Moscow; that Ms. Baturina’s company billed the city government $100 million for restoring the 25-meter high “Worker and Collective Farmer” statue; that the Luzhkov administration destroyed Moscow’s historic architecture and national parks and evicted people from their homes to make way for its own commercial pet projects; that the cost of road-building in Moscow has exceeded the cost of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva; and that the mayor vacationed in Austria while thousands of Muscovites were dying from the poisonous smog that covered the capital this summer.
The accusations are mostly accurate (except for the Austrian vacation — the mayor explained that he was receiving medical treatment abroad). Indeed, many were taken (without attribution) from a recent report by opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. The irony is that those who ordered the broadcasts — supposedly, people at the highest levels of federal government, including President Dmitri Medvedev — are no less corrupt or authoritarian than the Moscow mayor. This is not a campaign against nepotism, but the first major crack in the ruling regime as it continues to lose popularity with the Russian public. Today it is “Medvedev vs. Luzhkov”; tomorrow it may be “Medvedev vs. Putin,” “Putin vs. Medvedev,” “Surkov vs. Sechin,” or any other combination of officials. As leading liberal commentator Andrei Piontkovsky has noted, the anti-Luzhkov campaign on prime-time television is actually a condemnation of the Putin-Medvedev government.
The mayor of Moscow, who faithfully delivers “correct” results for United Russia in every election in the capital and regularly sends his police to disperse anti-Putin rallies, is likely on his way out. But infighting at the top will continue, until all warring Kremlin clans finally go down together with their sinking ship.
Russia’s Regime Turns on Itself