It is both difficult and easy to write about recently elected Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, 55, as the topic interlaces historic personalities (Ivan Kalita, Ivan the Terrible, Yuri Dolgoruky, and Peter the Great) and personal feelings about a mayor, modern innovations and ancient legends which claim the Russian capital was founded in 1147.
They say Moscow has innumerable churches and also call it "gold-domed" as the city has long been famous for its cathedrals and monasteries for long. Although in early Communist years of the XX century close to 300 churches were pulled down and many temples damaged by time numerous unique architectural monuments survived to our days making the metropolis unique in modern Europe.
New Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin abides by the principle: less words – more deeds. He does not believe his position to be political and insists the main task of the city head is to ensure that Moscow is clean and comfortable. Today hundreds of thousands of people work in companies subordinated to the Moscow government and there are millions of people employed in the capital city overall. The population of Moscow is close to 12 million at present.
Journalists regret that Sobyanin gives no grounds for sensational publications. Either he is an experienced apparatchik or a man without major drawbacks. Still this summer he made headlines when he resigned only to keep his post as elected. not appointed mayor. President Vladimir Putin supported his initiative, accepted the resignation and immediately appointed him acting mayor.
Did Sobyanin consult top Russian officials about his decision? He denies it, but many experts agree he did and recall how early this year Sobyanin voiced doubts about the necessity of early mayoral elections in the city. Anyway, any person has the right to change his mind on this or another issue. Why should we deny the right to the mayor? Besides, there is a reason for his decision as only elections can confirm whether the policy of Moscow authorities is efficient.
BORN IN SIBERIA
The would-be mayor was born in Siberia in a small village in Khanty-Mansi district. His father and mother worked together all their life, first in the village council where father Semen was the chairman and mother Antonina an accountant. They later moved to Berezovo district center where the father headed a butter factory and the mother worked as an economist. Sergei went to school in Berezovo. How did he study? His teacher Yelena Druzhinina recalled he was no A-straight pupil but there were no claims to him either.
In school Sergei displayed an acute feeling of responsibility — he always fulfilled his promises and therefore was entrusted with most important assignments. He was a good pupil without satisfactory marks. In maths which I teach he had a good mark although his knowledge was strong. In the fifth form I called him "small sage" for successes and thirst to study.
What happened later? In 1984 he was sent from Chelyabinsk to remote settlement of Kogalym in Khanty-Mansi district of Tyumen region as deputy chair of rural council. He thus followed in the footsteps of his father. In a year Kogalym received the status of a town and Sobyanin became secretary of the urban executive committee. In 1991 he was the head of the tax agency of the town and got an unexpected promotion to become the head of Kogalym. His mother regretted the new appointment most of all: "You are losing stable and respected work. Why should you become a mayor? It is a very nervous job".
The position was truly nervous. Suffice it to recall the year of 1991 in Russia! Kogalym was swept with rallies and strikes. The shops were empty. Previous authorities and oil tycoons were at odds with each other. However Sobyanin turned out to be a very pragmatic mayor and succeeded first to subdue boiling tensions and then build up a new system of relations with oil and gas producers.
Authorities and businessmen realized they were in one boat and should not rock it to avoid unpleasant consequences for all. The mayor evidently had a major gift of conviction because businessmen and city officials began to value each other and oil proceeds started filling city coffers. Social tension in Kogalym decreased and a year later the town boasted the biggest budget in the district.
Sobyanin then moved to Khanty-Mansiisk as first deputy district head and in half a year was elected chairman of the district legislature. Six years later he was appointed first deputy presidential envoy to the Ural federal district. It was a rapid career with numerous promotions in nine years. But it was not the top yet.
In less than a year Sobyanin ran in Tyumen gubernatorial election and won it triumphantly due to his Kogalym experience. He had what to say to the voters. The young governor worked in the region for five years and then was invited to the Kremlin. The appointment of a regional governor as the head of the Russian presidential administration was unexpected for many Kremlin observers who believed the national and regional scope was incomparable. However Sobyanin successfully coped with the mission. His Tyumen successor Governor Vladimir Yakushev explained it by a rare management talent of Sobyanin which he personally saw working close to him.
A man, an ordinary Tyumen resident and his comfort and living standards have always been a priority for Sobyanin. He launched a major reform of the social sphere. Pupils became a priority in schools, and patients — in hospitals. The principle was the basis of modernization of the whole social sphere in Tyumen region.
A man, an ordinary Tyumen resident and his comfort and living standards have always been a priority for Sobyanin. He launched a major reform of the social sphere. Pupils became a priority in schools, and patients - in hospitals. The principle was the basis of modernization of the whole social sphere in Tyumen region.
HOW SOBYANIN TOOK OVER MOSCOW
In the Kremlin administration Sobyanin served for five years and received a new appointment. An experienced manager was necessary to replace the Moscow mayor who served 18 years in office. The manager had to be as experienced as Yuri Luzhkov but without the bad habit of surrounding him with loyal people. Sobyanin was appointed Moscow mayor in October 2010. Since then Moscow began to offer a specific spiritual and moral tint to the Siberian man. The Russian capital city is rich in great and legendary names. Tsar Peter the Great was born in the Kremlin in the XVII century. Moscow enjoys the world glory of the first Russian naturalist, the founder of physical chemistry, poet, artist and historian and the founder of the Moscow University (1755) Mikhail Lomonosov. The city also keeps the memory of great Russian military commander Alexander Suvorov, world famous poet Alexander Pushkin, composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and first cosmonaut of the planet Yuri Gagarin. The past not only reminds of itself, it obliges.
Residents of the capital city were cautious about the new mayor as he was no Muscovite. With time the attitude to Sobyanin began to improve. Distinguished Russian political scientist Valery Khomyakov said the initial stage of Sobyanin's governance showed the choice of the new mayor was optimal.
Previous Moscow authorities beginning from the mayor down to heads of city districts got used to their positions. The paid zero attention to public opinion and engaged only in cashing their powers. Sergei Sobyanin is an experienced apparatchik and understands that he cannot ruin the system at a time. He will deal with prefects and heads of districts later.
The main thing is that he has no connection with Moscow circles. A new broom sweeps clean. It is important that it sweeps with feeling, wit and punctuation. Sobyanin is equally close both to Medvedev and Putin. It is naive to speak who of them won the game. I believe both Medvedev and Putin will attentively watch developments in Moscow and help Sobyanin in his new mission. There will be double control — from the federal center and ordinary Muscovites.
Khomyakov was right: Sobyanin acted according to the scenario and soon enjoyed recognition of Muscovites. Public opinion polls show few residents remain nostalgic about the previous mayor and a majority recognized Sobyanin as a man of deeds. He confirms it with everyday activities.
The position of mayor gave Sobyanin not only recognition but also inevitable headache. Besides current problems inherited from the predecessor Sobyanin had to cope with the overcrowded situation in the city. As a result, federal authorities decided to provide additional territory to Moscow as the capital city was suffocating in its boundaries. Moscow got additional 1600 square kilometers and a chance to change its traditional concentric structure by creating new government, business, educational and cultural clusters and spreading close to four million people who travel to the center of the city every day. Experts estimate retail trade network in Moscow is like in Copenhagen and Stockholm which are much less in territory and more expensive.
The New Moscow demands major investments and a different attitude to the needs of city residents. The mayor plans to build up on the new territories up to 30 million square meters of housing and twice as much parks. The expansion will help Moscow develop into a genuine world financial center. At present Moscow cooperates on a permanent basis with nearly 160 cities and regions of the world. It actively participates in international associations of cities, in particular, in the World Association of Major Metropolises and the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) organization. The city-building experience of the most populated metropolis in Europe is studied by European partners, including the Master Plan for the development of Moscow up to 2025.
The capital city naturally needs new investments. How can it attract powerful investors, including foreign ones, and make them reliable partners in the important business for Moscow? Experienced Sobyanin seems to know the recipe for the invisible but important and laborious work. His speech two years ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos triggered interest of numerous potential partners of Moscow and they agreed to invest into the development of the Russian capital city on mutually beneficial terms. How did the mayor tempt them? He promised to lift all excessive administrative business barriers in the near future. "We are totally reviewing all procedures and dropping everything which impedes businesses and investors. We want to make businesses obtain permissions and receive services in the easiest possible way and ideally through Internet", Sobyanin said.
Many city-owned facilities will be sold. "Privatization plans include dozens of Moscow companies. It is not because we urgently need money. Moscow is not a poor city. But we believe we have to streamline property management system, eliminate market imbalances and minimize losses. The city will own only that property which is core for its main functions. City orders should be placed in transparent competitive environment. Moscow orders a lot and its investment program already comprises close to $12 billion. It is huge money and we believe it should be spent efficiently". The Moscow mayor invited foreign investors to bid at tenders. He also urged them to join the solution of transport problems of the capital city.
Moscow has to get over 30 new underground stations which will cost 500 billion rubles in the coming five years. Russian subway builders are ready to join effort with foreign counterparts. Sobyanin has huge plans but to implement them he had to win the election.
WHAT SOBYANIN TOLD THE VOTERS
After three years in mayor's office Sobyanin could tell voters a lot. He was satisfied to focus on problems which his administration succeeded to resolve. That is what he said in March 2013.
Eighteen months ago we spoke about plans and prospects. Today we speak about their implementation. Do you remember the talk about modernized health care? Today we have practically completed the renewal of all medical equipment in the city. We spoke about the reform of education. It is nearly completed. We considerably improved the material base and wages of teachers. We discussed transportation problems a lot and the program of the underground development. It is being implemented at a scope which Moscow has never seen. It is definitely inspiring but the programs have to be completed to provide maximum effect.
I am satisfied that we succeeded to drive many old problems from the deadlock. There are also simple tasks, for example, in beautification of the city we progressed more than in the previous ten years. But these are local objects that do not demand much time. But there are tasks which need five and more years. The modernization program for the underground will continue up to 2020.
To complete his initiatives Sobyanin decided to win support of Muscovites and agreed to hold early election to promote his plans that enjoy support of city residents. Why didn't he delay the move to save money and combine the vote with the 2014 election to the city Duma? Sobyanin bluntly answered the question.
I do not believe money-saving is appropriate. Muscovites have to quietly elect the Moscow City Duma and elect the mayor also quietly without combining the votes. If we combine them I fear it would be difficult for many people to decide who and what to vote for... These are too big election campaigns. To avoid creating numerous problems and mixing up both campaigns they should be better held separately.
An elected mayor is a step forward for Moscow. The person supported by voters and enjoying the mandate of trust will act faster and more efficiently in implementing the programs he announced.
Sobyanin did not avoid tricky questions related to activities of his political opponents. He is ready to employ in the Moscow government experts with any political outlook. The main criteria is experience and knowledge.
I do not support a system in which a person is of interest only for political views. I do not care whether he is in opposition or not. Is he capable? Will he add something new to our work? This is the criteria. I am disinterested in his party affiliation and political career plans.
There is another significant stroke: during registration of candidates Sobyanin helped his main competitor Alexey Navalny get the necessary number of signatures from municipal deputies. The rules demand any candidate for the mayor to pass the procedure to obtain registration.
The election result is known. Muscovites elected Sergei Sobyanin. It is their choice for which they bear responsibility while Sobyanin has another five years in office.