As mayor from 1992 to 2010, Mr. Luzhkov oversaw an ambitious municipal overhaul, navigating the difficult transition from Soviet communism to capitalism with a combination of czar-like decisiveness and a flair for populist gestures.
He promoted the image of a hands-on, details-oriented manager who delivered on his promises, unlike the market reform ideologues who ran Russia’s federal government in the wake of the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Moscow’s voters rewarded him with three decisive election victories.
Projecting authority far beyond that of an ordinary city boss, Mr. Luzhkov advocated for the restoration of Russia’s influence over its former Soviet neighbors, foreshadowing the policies that in recent years have bolstered the popularity of President Vladimir Putin. He argued that Crimea belonged to Russia two decades before Putin annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
Throughout his 18 years in charge of Moscow, Mr. Luzhkov was also dogged by criticism from human rights advocates for his harsh, Soviet-style restrictions on migrants and the homeless. He faced allegations of mismanagement and corruption, in particular the claim that the construction business of his second wife, Yelena Baturina, flourished because of his position. Although Mr. Luzhkov co-founded the United Russia movement that today serves as Russia’s ruling party, the mayor ran afoul of the Kremlin and was fired by President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.
Mr. Luzhkov’s Kremlin-backed successor, Sergei Sobyanin, has overseen an even more striking renovation of Moscow’s parks, boulevards, skyline and services. Today, many in Russia see Mr. Luzhkov as “a man from the 1990s,” a symbol of the disintegration and chaos of the early post-Soviet years, said Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst of Russian politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
As he liked to tell the story, Yuri Mikhailovich Luzhkov was born in Moscow on Sept. 21, 1936, in the seat of a passenger car that didn’t make it to the maternity ward on time. His mother was a laborer at a state-run factory, and his father was a carpenter.
In 1958, Mr. Luzhkov graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Moscow-based institute for the Soviet oil and gas industry. He led a division of the Soviet Ministry of the Chemical Industry for more than 20 years.
In 1987, at the outset of the liberalizing “perestroika” reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Mr. Luzhkov joined the Moscow city government under Russia’s future president Boris Yeltsin, the leader of the Communist Party in the capital. Later, Yeltsin put Mr. Luzhkov in charge of developing quasi-private business ventures, the first seedlings of capitalism in Moscow.
Mr. Luzhkov’s wife of 31 years, Marina Bashilova, died in 1989. Two years later, Mr. Luzhkov married Baturina, who eventually headed one of Russia’s leading construction companies and became the first female Russian billionaire. He had two children from each of his marriages, but a complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Luzhkov made his name as a pro-democracy politician in August 1991, when, as deputy mayor, he sided with Yeltsin in defiance of an attempted coup by communists who wanted to reimpose the old Soviet system. The collapse of the coup led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, and when Mayor Gavriil K. Popov retired in June 1992, Yeltsin, now president of independent Russia, appointed Mr. Luzhkov to lead Moscow.
By this time, Russians were already expressing displeasure with the hardships of economic “shock therapy” advocated by Yeltsin’s cabinet of “young reformers.” Mr. Luzhkov cast himself as the alternative — a khozyaistvennik, or a can-do manager, who set aside free-market theory and instead got down to the nuts and bolts of making Moscow a world-class capital.
Moscow in post-Soviet Russia was afforded the status of a province, but Mr. Luzhkov took that power a step further. In his words, he commanded the city “as a separate state.” He was able to keep Moscow out of the sweeping privatization of Russia’s state-owned enterprises that was a centerpiece of Yeltsin’s economic reforms. The city retained ownership of public property, as well as nearly 200 enterprises, which the newspaper Novaya Gazeta called “one of the biggest empires in Russia.”
Mr. Luzhkov stood with Yeltsin during a political rebellion in 1993 and campaigned for Yeltsin’s reelection in 1996. But he gradually staked out an independent, more chauvinistic political line.
Defying Russia’s post-communist constitution, Moscow police began enforcing Soviet-era residence restrictions on migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Mr. Luzhkov began a campaign to return to Russia the Black Sea port Sevastopol, which had been conceded, along with the rest of Crimea, to Ukraine by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.
Mr. Luzhkov also pursued policies aimed at two newly independent countries on Russia’s frontiers that were twisting out of Moscow’s orbit. He invested heavily in support of separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in their conflicts with Georgia, which was courting NATO. And he tried to intervene on behalf of the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia, condemning as “genocide” citizenship laws that limited their rights.
He became increasing critical of the insider privatization deals that led to a ruling class of “oligarchs” whose influence increased as Yeltsin’s health, and popularity, waned. Critics of Mr. Luzhkov charged that his governance was no better, saying that the city benefited from kickbacks and contributions to public works projects coerced from business owners.
Anyone who spoke out about cronyism and corruption would quickly face a defamation lawsuit. In the 1990s, Mr. Luzhkov won dozens of them, including one against former prime minister and leader of the “young reformers” Yegor Gaidar, who accused the mayor of “massive corruption.”
But voters appreciated Mr. Luzhkov’s sweeping and grandiose public works projects, including new housing, improved roads and subway stations, a proliferation of shopping malls, and the reconstruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, demolished by the Soviets in 1931. He was easily reelected in 1996 and 1999.
As the 2000 presidential election campaign approached, and Mr. Luzhkov emerged as a favorite to succeed Yeltsin, he became a vocal critic of his onetime ally. In response, Yeltsin’s inner circle, darkly nicknamed “the family,” unleashed a furious media campaign against the mayor.
When Yeltsin abruptly stepped down on New Year’s Eve 1999, he chose Putin as his successor. But even as Putin consolidated control over Russia, Mr. Luzhkov prospered. He won his third reelection in 2003 with 75 percent of the vote. Putin, after abolishing elections of regional leaders, reappointed Mr. Luzhkov in 2007.
Allegations of financial impropriety continued, especially as Baturina’s business flourished. Outside Russia, Mr. Luzhkov became known as a social conservative who decried gay pride parades as “satanic” and insisted on decorating Moscow with images of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Mr. Luzhkov also became increasingly hostile to Medvedev, the former prime minister who swapped places with Putin for four years between 2008 and 2012. After publicly criticizing Medvedev in September 2010, he was fired.
Baturina sold her Russian holdings and moved her business abroad, spending most of her time in Europe, where she owns hotels, invests in renewable energy and runs a construction business.
In recent years, Mr. Luzhkov ran a farm in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Ever the khozyaistvennik, in a 2018 interview he told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that he was ready to supply Moscow with buckwheat.
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