In a withering attack on President Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow’s ousted mayor Yury Luzhkov on Wednesday accused him of promoting a climate of repression and censorship reminiscent of the Stalin era.
The extraordinary attack is the fiercest launched by any leading figure in Russia against Medvedev, who a day earlier dramatically sacked Luzhkov after 18 years in power, citing a loss of confidence.
The lacerating broadside came in a letter sent to the Kremlin late on Sunday but was only published early on Wednesday on the website of the opposition weekly New Times magazine.
“In our country the fear of expressing your view has existed since 1937,” Luzhkov said, referring to the peak of the repression and Great Terror under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
“If our leadership merely supports this fear with its statements … then it is easy to go to a situation where there is just one leader in the country whose words are written in granite and who must be followed unquestioningly.”
“How does this stand with your calls for ‘development of democracy’?” he asked the president
‘Nothing but censorship’
He accused the Kremlin of pulling from the air a documentary on a Moscow channel that countered several muck-raking programmes on his rule on state television. “This is nothing other than censorship,” he said.
The former mayor, who came to power in 1992 under late president Boris Yeltsin, is an unlikely champion of democracy.
Luzhkov’s comments are hardly likely to impress his own liberal critics who have accused the ex-mayor of sanctioning violent tactics against opposition rallies and extreme homophobia.
Medvedev has sought to promote himself as a reforming president who is encouraging the development of a strong democracy in Russia as part of a modernisation drive.
But also in the letter Luzhkov noted he had championed the idea of reinstalling direct elections for regional leaders which were scrapped in 2004 in favour of an effective direct appointment by the Kremlin.
Luzhkov’s dismissal was seen by analysts as one of Medvedev’s boldest moves since coming to power in 2008 and aimed at eliminating a potentially tricky opponent ahead of 2012 presidential elections.
Kremlin spokesperson Natalya Timakova said that Medvedev was aware of the letter but emphasised its content had not influenced his decision.
“Its content could not influence things one way or another,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the president’s visit to the Far East.
Luzhkov’s ruthless dismissal was immediately effective and Russian news agencies reported Wednesday that he was seen returning to his office to move out possessions early in the morning.
“I will need several days to pick up my personal things. My awards alone take up several cupboards,” he told Interfax.
Medvedev appointed Luzhkov’s ageing deputy Vladimir Resin as acting mayor in his place but observers believe it unlikely he will remain permanently and that the Kremlin is already casting the net for a successor.
Names aired in the press have included powerful deputy prime ministers Igor Shuvalov and Sergei Ivanov but the Kremlin will be careful not to allow any potential opponent to create his own powerbase.
Another mooted possibility, the Kremlin’s special envoy for the conflict-torn North Caucasus region Alexander Khloponin, told Interfax that he was ready to take the job if asked by the president . — Sapa-AFP