Back in October 8th, ten days after Luzhkov’s dismissal from the Moscow mayoralty by Medvedev, I predicted that “within the next 3 months Luzhkov is going to get hit with corruption charges and will either go on trial or seek political asylum in the West”. Today news comes that the corrupt, gay-bashing former Mayor turned up to the British Embassy in Moscow to apply for a visa.
Figures linked to Luzhkov have variously denied these as rumors (such as a spokesman for the construction firm Inteko owned by Luzhkov’s wife Baturina) or claimed he only wanted to visit family in the UK (Iosif Kobzon, a singer and Luzhkov’s friend). But that is only to be expected.
Corruption investigations against the former Mayor’s circle are stepping up, and Luzhkov certainly hasn’t helped himself by portraying his ouster as evidence of the “return of Stalinism” and censorship and repression. (Of course, the city’s corruption-reporting journalists might beg to differ).
If Luzhkov had gone quietly, no doubt the Kremlin would have left him in peace, to enjoy Baturina’s ill-gotten wealth. However, his decision to challenge the Kremlin made this impossible. He might have been unpopular when dismissed, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and he could prove to be far more of an inconvenience to the Kremlin as an independent maverick than the sorry riffraff that is the current Russian liberal opposition. Why tolerate him, when there would be no problems with charging and convicting him for corruption? There wouldn’t even be any need to rig the courts!
We are seeing yet another beginning of an old theme. Corrupt Russian oligarch (e.g. Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky) or corrupt politician (e.g. Kasyanov) is kicked out of power, and lashes out at the Kremlin for its “authoritarianism” in daring to do so. In the process, they begin to re-brand themselves as born-again liberal democrats and acquire street cred with the liberal opposition and their foreign sponsors.
Whether Luzhkov continues the fight from a courtroom or a London mansion, the Western media is now free to present it as Kremlin persecution of “political dissidence”, further confirming Russia’s (never-ending) slide into authoritarian darkness. No more mention will be made of Luzhkov’s political repression through the libel laws, nor of his Stalinophilia, nor of his homophobia, nor of the rigged contracts and disregard to Moscow’s architectural heritage that made his wife a billionaire. The past will be erased and Putin found to have been responsible for it all along.
This latest development likely just confirms that Luzhkov will opt for London. It’s far safer and more comfortable. As a bonus, he won’t even be too lonely there. Berezovsky is awaiting his arrival, further noting that Luzhkov’s only choice for escaping prison and safeguarding his property is to ask for political asylum in Britain. Listen to him – he’s the expert on this.
UPDATE 10/25: Assuming Luzhkov manages to leave Russia before he is arrested, he appears well set for a pretty comfortable retirement in Britain. His wife is already there, and the couple are suspected of having bought substantial properties in London under a front company. “Last year, [the British] press wrote about Elena Baturina’s purchase … of the largest 18th century residence in London, second only to Buckingham Palace. It has 65 rooms, a ballroom, and more than 3,500 square meters.”
A little Googling shows that the palace is Highgate’s West Hill (photo above). I’m sure the Luzhkovs will make a fine and most fitting addition to the ranks of the British glitterati.
EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.Ru (Находящийся в изгнании российский диссидент Юрий Лужков осуждает коррумпированный сталинистский режим Путина).