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Kremlin appoints caretaker for Moscow votes ahead of December elections

Sergei Sobyanin At KiosksMoscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin is clearly a man that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin feels he can trust. The PM yesterday asked the new head of Moscow, live on TV, to lead the regional branch of the ruling Untied Russia party into December's parliamentary elections, reports Reuters.

- - "It seems to me that a leader of the Moscow organisation of United Russia has not yet been chosen. It would be right for you to head it," Putin told Sobyanin in televised comments. Sobyanin accepted the job.

The Kremlin and United Russia installed Sobyanin as Moscow mayor after President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed Yuri Luzhkov in September. Whilst some tried to suggest that the move illustrated the president's independence from the PM, Putin was clearly fully informed, and kept his own council.

In the longer run, ousting Luzhkov allowed the Kremlin to consolidate its power over the capital - with the country's political and economic centre becoming only more strategic in the face of Medvedev's drive to attract investment to help modernize Russia.

Many observers at the time also suggested that the choice of new mayor would offer an insight into next year's presidential elections - with few signs available to hungry Kremlinologists over which of Putin or Medvedev will run.

Sobyanin is very much Putin's man - he became Kremlin chief of staff in 2005, when Putin was president, and followed when Putin became PM to take on the role of government chief of staff in 2008. However, frequent sightings of a split between the PM and president look more like hopeful thrusts from Putin's critics.

For now, the appointment of Sobyanin - who is a member of United Russia's supreme council - to head the dominant parliamentary party appears simply a step intended to keep support for the authorities high overall. As head of the Moscow branch, he'll be responsible for bringing in as many of the city's 7m votes as possible - as Moscow mayor he'll have the levers to achieve it.

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