Former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov gave an interview to the Russian Service of the BBC in London. He refused to comment on the candidates running for mayor but shared his impressions about the upcoming election.
He also spoke about his new occupation as a combine operator and about complications with a British visa.
Talking to Yuri Luzhkov was BBC Russian Service correspondent Oleg Antonenko.
BBC: What are your feelings when you watch the election campaign in Moscow?
Yuri Luzhkov: Well, of course they are mixed feelings. The election campaign has turned out to be rather unexpected. I would describe the rashness with the timing as undue hurry, and Muscovites may still be uncertain about who to vote for in the election. And some of the candidates did not have enough time to settle their affairs abroad and abandoned the race. All that has impacted the public opinion in Moscow.
BBC: Why the undue hurry do you think?
Y.L.: What I say is true not only about the election in Moscow but in general: when a ruling party decides to call for an early election, it expects to win. When it loses its potential and its popularity, it in a hurry to call for an early election. Also, it expects to be able to do more than its political opponents.
I would not name any other reasons for the decision to call for an early election. Let us recall Britain’s war with Argentina for the Falkland Islands. Margaret Thatcher won a quick and impressive victory, and she immediately called for an early election, and the Tories, whom she represented, won on that patriotic wave.
On the Conflict with Medvedev
BBC: You have told me that, for ethical reasons, you are not going to comment on the candidates. Then, I will ask about you. When you learned about the early election, did you not have a desire to take part?
Y.L.: I thought about it, of course, but I had no desire to run. The reason is, not that I have health problems or lack energy, but that I would be unable to work successfully in conditions that exist under the current cabinet of ministers.
Moscow is the capital city and is in the centre of state affairs, and I could not see myself as mayor in conditions of a Dmitry Medvedev cabinet. Medvedev has made a totally absurd decision about my removal from the post of mayor; practically no one understands to this day why and for what Medvedev dismissed me. Loss of trust – by whom? By the Muscovites? I did have trust of the Muscovites. Trust of the president? What did I do? Did I fail with the city economy? Did social programmes stop being implemented? Did construction work stop? Or did processes begin in the city that made Medvedev take such a totally groundless and hasty decision?
No, the decision had totally different reasons, unrelated to how Moscow worked, how its government worked or how the mayor worked. Those reasons, I believe, will soon be made public, and a very interesting reaction must follow not only by the Muscovites but by all Russians. The reasons are known to Medvedev himself, but he would be unwilling to make them public, and those reasons are known to me. In any case, I have no wish to work with such a premier.
BBC: In your interview with the BBC Russian Service two years ago, you said that neither politics nor business can be done in Russia. However, you are now in a farming project in Kaliningrad Oblast. Does that mean that farming can still be practiced?
Y.L.: Well, that is nowhere near doing business; that is about rescuing an unprofitable rural operation. That is not a major agricultural enterprise. I am trying to rescue an operation in conditions of crisis management that I know well and make it at least break even. I think I will make it. I ask for no assistance, and our team is trying to overcome the difficult situation in which the entire rural economy in Russia has found itself today.
BBC: After that interview with the BBC Russian Service, you and your wife were called to testify on the Bank of Moscow case. Do you know how that case is developing?
Y.L.: Not much. When I spoke critically about premier Medvedev, I was immediately called to the Investigation Committee. What sort of methods are those? I do not simply tie those two events, I know for certain [that they are connected]. My wife has recently received an official letter from the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs that says that both she and her employees that had been interviewed as witnesses in the Bank of Moscow case are clean before that law. She has received an official letter on having no quarrel with them.
Moreover, I can say that the principal matter imputed to Andrei Borodin was no grounds for judicial prosecution. Therefore, when I was interviewed as a witness in the case, I was calm, because I knew that the case was hopeless.
BBC: Nevertheless, Mr Borodin is living in London, where he has been granted asylum, and your wife is also living mostly in London.
Y.L.: I think that the British authorities had good reasons to grant him asylum.
On Home and Family
BBC: What is your principal place of residence now?
Y.L.: You know, this has impacted very much the family’s ability to be together. My wife followed the children, who began their studies in Britain then. Of course, she must be with the children. We have a very solid and loving family. For various reasons, including because of wicked talk launched by the Russian authorities about my personality, the British authorities would only issue me 12-day visas for visits with my family. In six weeks, I would get another 12-day visa, and so on.
I undertook the Kaliningrad project. For our family, that was a period of trials for reasons totally alien to us. The reasons had to do with that dirt and lies organised against my wife and me by issuing instructions to certain media. They were instructed to use blackmail and greenmail, and all that could not help but impact decisions of the visa-issuing British authorities.
Today I have more chances to visit and of course I mostly stay with my family. It is now the harvesting season in Kaliningrad, and this is a very important period of course. I operate a combine; I have mastered this profession, yet another one for me.
BBC: Is it better than working as a mayor?
Y.L.: You know, this is a dirty kind of work. I work on an old combine. But that dirt is much cleaner than what was happening to me in politics. I know of nothing that can be dirtier than politics. I believe there are little spots in all political systems in the world, but in the times of Medvedev, at least as far as I was concerned, Russian politics were dirty.
BBC: In both your previous interview with the BBC Russian Service and now you distinguish between then and now. Does that mean that for you Putin and Medvedev are two totally different kinds of politics?
Y.L.: Exactly. They are not equal, not even distantly. They are different figures, different level of state thinking, etc. And the Russian people, I believe, see that as well.
Look at the transformation occurred in our premier. When he spoke last about Ingushetia, and spoke very unfortunately, the Ingush people got indignant. He said we would be introducing alternative elections everywhere, with the exception of the republics where the people are still unprepared for them.
And these “unprepared” people say: we were prepared in the State Duma election, and we were prepared in the presidential election, and now we turn out to be unprepared when we have to elect the head of our own republic. It is ignominious that you state that the people are unprepared for alternative elections.
It is a political mistake, offensive for an entire people.