Russian vice-premier might succeed Moscow mayor

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MOSCOW, July 27 (RIA Novosti) - Until recently, Russian Vice Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov had been privately considered to be the main contender for prime minister. However, rumor has it in Moscow that Mikhail Fradkov's deputy has been short-listed as a possible successor to the current mayor, according to the Kompaniya weekly.

The stability of the position of Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, who has been in office since 1992 and who does not fit the Kremlin-arranged "vertical of power" that well, has long been questioned. In the wake of the cancellation of elections of provincial governors by direct vote, President Putin may have sealed the fate of this Russian political heavyweight by a single stroke of the pen (Luzhkov's term of office expires in December 2007). Having kicked off last spring, the large-scale sale of cement and construction assets owned by the mayor's wife Yelena Baturina (Forbes estimated the turnover of Baturina-owned diversified group Inteco, which has construction, financial, petrochemical, agricultural, trade, and foodstuffs businesses throughout the country at $525 million) has only boosted the anticipation of a major municipal personnel reshuffle in Moscow.

The fairly charismatic Zhukov looks like a far more adequate replacement for Luzhkov than another obscure presidential colleague from Lubyanka. He is no stranger to the metropolitan establishment either. In 1999, the future vice prime minister was elected to the State Duma as part of the Otechestvo-All Russia, a federal bloc, which Moscow authorities were heavily involved in setting up.

However, assuming the office of Moscow's mayor, Zhukov would be unable to run in the 2008 presidential election. The qualities that make him an optimal mayor for the Russian capital might also come in handy if the Kremlin starts seeking a moderately liberal successor to Putin. In the climb to the top of the Russian political Olympus, the prime minister's job looks most preferable.

However, having lost the role of supervisor of administrative reforms, the vice prime minister was automatically scratched off the shortlist of prime minister hopefuls and, thus, the 2008 shortlist as well. It looks like Zhukov will be vested with running Moscow, the article's author concludes.

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