Moscow Mayor Disputes Yeltsin, May Quit
Citing policy disputes with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, the controversial mayor of Moscow announced his imminent resignation on Sunday in a reflection of mounting opposition to the Yeltsin administration’s impending economic reforms.
“I can’t work under conditions in which I can’t fulfill what I promised to my voters,” Mayor Gavriil Popov said.
“I didn’t come here to hold onto my seat and sit in a fancy office and drive lovely cars,” the rotund, 55-year-old economist said. “I took on certain obligations in the elections. I should fulfill them. If I can’t do that, my obligation and duty are to step down.”
Popov’s announcement at a congress of the Democratic Reform Movement, the popular coalition led by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, showed the increasing dissent over many of Yeltsin’s moves within the very bloc of liberal parties that constitute some of his main support.
The movement, wrapping up a two-day congress, adopted a resolution saying that it would support democracy but at the same time criticizing “the inconsistency, incompleteness and slowness of political and economic reforms.”
Popov, one of the original perestroika- era figures to launch the battle against Communist ideology and power structures, called on the movement’s members to go even further and become a full-fledged opposition movement standing against the Yeltsin government.
“If we created a genuine democratic opposition, that would be a qualitatively new step in the development of our country and our democracy,” he told the Democratic Reform Movement congress.
His views were balanced, however, by Yeltsin supporters who argued that liberals such as he, who helped get the Russian president elected, now owe him their support.
Since he was handily elected to the new mayoral post in June, Popov, a diminutive man with a gnomish demeanor, has frequently threatened to resign, sometimes citing health reasons and other times policy disagreements or an overload of commitments.
Along with being mayor of the 9 million residents of the Soviet capital, Popov is Yeltsin’s representative in the Moscow region, a member of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s advisory council, chairman of various organizations and even president of a baseball and softball federation.
If Popov’s main motivation is indeed a disagreement over economic reform, it is probably centered on his plans for selling off state-owned stores and apartments in Moscow, according to speculation broadcast Sunday evening on Russian television.
During his campaign, Popov promised widespread privatization. Last month, in a policy move that directly affects virtually every Muscovite, he decreed that the city’s housing, formally almost entirely state-owned, would be given away to its residents free of charge. A property tax, in an amount not yet specified, was to be imposed later.
But Popov’s program does not gibe with the privatization plans of the Russian Federation government and has also run into resistance in the Moscow City Council, where many deputies support a more complex approach that involves fewer giveaways.
Similarly, Popov put a radical economist in charge of the rapid selloff of several thousand small stores in Moscow, giving employees first dibs at ownership and putting stores not claimed by their workers up for auction.
But Larissa Piyasheva, the radical economist, has repeatedly been blocked by city bureaucrats.
Although he was elected by a healthy margin in June, Popov has lost much of his popularity among Muscovites. He has not managed to make any visible improvements in city services, and food supplies have worsened dramatically during his administration.
Major traffic arteries are still pitted with potholes; public transportation is still overloaded, and businessmen are still frustrated by Byzantine regulations.
Popov and his allies have not been alone in raising doubts. Yeltsin and his radical economic program have drawn loud criticism from trade union leaders and splinter groups of die-hard Communists.
Even Alexander Rutskoi, Yeltsin’s vice president, has questioned whether Yeltsin is right to begin reforms by removing state controls on prices, a move now scheduled to take place Jan. 2. The action is expected to send prices soaring to at least three or four times their current levels.