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Moscow Mayor Sobyanin Inherits Gridlock, Deficit, Corruption

Sergei SobyaninOct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Sergei Sobyanin, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's former chief of staff, was named Moscow mayor today even as he lacks a popular mandate to tackle the city's gridlock, widening budget deficit and corruption.

The Putin aide replaces Yury Luzhkov, whom Medvedev fired last month after 18 years running Europe's largest city. Sobyanin was approved by the Moscow city council today, where Putin's United Russia party holds 32 out of 35 seats. He was relieved of his duties on the federal level.

"Step by step we'll fix the city's problems," Sobyanin said on state television after the Moscow City Duma approved his nomination by President Dmitry Medvedev. "At the very least we'll continuously improve the situation."

The Moscow mayor, like the leaders of Russia's regions, is essentially appointed by the Kremlin since then-President Putin abolished direct gubernatorial elections in 2004. Forty-six percent of Muscovites would prefer electing their mayor in a direct vote, while only 8 percent agree with the current system, according to a poll published by the Levada Center last week.

Sobyanin, a former Siberian governor whom Putin brought to Moscow in 2005, will inherit a raft of problems that caused Medvedev to dismiss his predecessor for a "loss of confidence." In the weeks before his firing, Luzhkov, 74, was attacked by state television for traffic jams and the fortune of his wife Yelena Baturina, Russia's richest woman. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has said Moscow should sell assets to plug its 120 billion ruble ($3.9 billion) deficit.

Corruption Allegations

Transportation problems are the capital's number one concern, shared by 42 percent of Muscovites, according to a poll published yesterday by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM. Inflation came in second place, concerning 28 percent of the capital's residents.

Sixty-six percent of Muscovites questioned by the Levada Center said they expect corruption and abuse of power to remain the same. Fifty-eight percent said Medvedev should follow up on corruption accusations leveled against Luzhkov.

Sobyanin promised today to improve Moscow's investment climate, which he said had been damaged by bribery, red tape, traffic jams and lack of transparent management. He also criticized Luzhkov for spending beyond the city's means.

The new mayor, acknowledging that he wasn't directly elected by voters, thanked Muscovites for the confidence they showed him via their council members. Thirty-two out of 34 votes cast were in Sobyanin's favor.

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