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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

New Moscow mayor 'tough but fair'

Sergei Sobyanin and Dmitri MedvedevMoscow's new mayor is a tough Siberian team player who rose through the ranks with a no-nonsense attitude and developed his home Tyumen region with the support of Moscow.

Now Sergei Sobyanin will have to use his alliance-building skills to break down entrenched bureaucracies and tackle the capital's problems, including traffic, social issues and corruption.
[Original of image copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036]

But experts said he will be up to the job.

Born in Nyaksimvol village in the Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous district in 1958, Sobyanin rose from the factory floor to the Kremlin in a meteoric career. In the Tyumen region, he worked variously as a fitter, a leader of a turners' brigade and an engineer at the Chelyabinsk Pipe Rolling Plant, before becoming mayor of Kogalym and later a governor of the region.

His political career began in earnest in 1982, when Sobyanin became a department head of the local Komsomol in Chelyabinsk.

Ten years after that, Sobyanin became Kogalym's mayor ­ thanks to support from Alexander Filipenko, then Khanty-Mansiysk governor and thanks to Lukoil, an influential employer there.

"Filipenko and other leaders of the north of Tyumen pushed Sobyanin to become Tyumen governor," Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, told The Moscow News.

Sobyanin's career then took a big leap forward in 2005, when he was selected to become Kremlin chief of staff in Vladimir Putin's administration.

Business links

Marking Sobyanin's rule in Tyumen was a tough approach to business, experts said.

While he fell out with influential people from the north of the region, damaging his friendly relations with Lukoil, he acquired new allies in TNK, the oil company owned by billionaires Mikhail Fridman, Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik.
TNK later merged with BP to become TNK-BP, the country's third-biggest oil firm.

Sobyanin married Irina Ryubinchik, a cousin of a former energy minister, Alexander Gavrin, and together they have two daughters - Olga and Anna.

Media speculation has been rife since Sobyanin's nomination for Moscow mayor that Irina could have business links in a similar way to Elena Baturina, the wife of Sobyanin's predecessor, Yury Luzhkov.

But despite reports about Irina Sobyanina having links to a road construction company in the Tyumen region, privately held Aerodromdorstroy, they remain unproven.

"In Tyumen no one has ever mentioned that Irina is an owner of the company Aerodromdorstroy. I cannot deny this rumour nor confirm it," Viktor Yegorov, a journalist from Tyumen, told The Moscow News.

Aerodromdorstroy declined to comment on whether it had any links to Sobyanina.

According to her official biography, Sobyanina worked as a teacher at a child development centre in Tyumen for one year until 2005, and now she is a housewife in Moscow.

"In my opinion, Irina is a real housewife. She is a very nice and decent woman, and above all, she is a mother to her two daughters. I treat her with great respect," Yegorov said.

In an interview given to a local newspaper in the Tyumen region, Sobyanina said she has never regretted the fact that her husband became a big-time politician.

"He makes a decision himself, I take it as our destiny," she told the local edition of Argumenti i Fakti.

Kremlin to call the shots

Experts from Tyumen said Sobyanin was tough, but fair.

"I know Sergei as a focused person, who knows how to concentrate on specific issues. He is very demanding, always insisting on work to be fully completed," Gennady Raikov, a member of the Central Election Commission, told The Moscow News.

Stanislav Belkovsky, an independent political analyst, told The Moscow News that Sobyanin would not become the same kind of city boss as Luzhkov was.

"The Kremlin will [be in charge]," Belkovsky said. "Key decisions will be made by the federal government. Sobyanin is a man of the system, and thanks to this he became mayor. He is a commissar, sent to establish Kremlin control over Moscow."

Sobyanin has studiously avoided political controversy during his career, except for once saying that "there are no free journalists by definition."

Local journalists from Tyumen told The Moscow News that it could be a little difficult to deal with Sobyanin when he was governor.

"It was tough, he created a strange environment," said one journalist, who asked to remain anonymous. "But at least he wasn't an idiot as many governors are. Everything he ever told journalist was formal and official."

At his alma mater, the Kostroma Technological Institute, Sobyanin's former classmate, Stanislav Mikhailov - now a teacher there - told The Moscow News that Sobyanin was a single-minded and diligent student.

Another side of Sobyanin that may be shown in his new job is his religious convictions.

When Sobyanin became Kremlin chief of staff in 2005, he confirmed in an interview to Vesti Nedeli that some of his ancestors were Old Believers.

"I am Russian Orthodox. In general, I have a lot of tolerance for all different faiths, save for those which preach extremism and violence," Sobyanin said.

Five years on, the representatives of the country's main faiths were all in attendance at Sobyanin's inauguration at City Hall, and Patriarch Kirill was among the first officials to congratulate him on his new appointment.

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