Yuri Luzhkov, ex-Moscow mayor who transformed Russian capital, has died

By Andrew Osborn
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Yuri Luzhkov, ex-Moscow mayor who transformed Russian capital, has died

FILE PHOTO: Former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. who has died aged 83, is seen applauding at a tennis match in Moscow in 2011

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Yuri Luzhkov, who as Moscow mayor transformed the drab former capital of the Soviet Union into a glitzy playground for Russia's super-rich with help from his construction magnate wife, has died aged 83.

President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to Luzhkov's family in a telegram, calling him an outsized personality whose tenure as mayor helped contribute to Russia's post-Soviet rebirth.

Putin singled out Luzhkov's work advocating for the Crimean city of Sevastopol to be regarded as a Russian city "despite all the circumstances and diplomatic protocol." Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Luzhkov died in Munich, Russia's embassy in Berlin said in a statement. He had recently undergone heart surgery, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

Luzhkov, who helped set up the now ruling United Russia party but later became a Kremlin critic, will be remembered by many Russians for his plain-talking folksy style and his love of flat leather caps and bee-keeping.

Some Muscovites reviled Luzhkov, casting him as a corrupt vandal who as Moscow mayor from 1992 until 2010 tore down many historic buildings to make way for what they described as tasteless modern replacements, some of them built by his wife's construction company.

Others say he breathed new vibrancy into Moscow during a difficult period when it was finding its feet after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and had some of the world's longest traffic jams and sporadic contract killings.


MODERN CITY

Luzhkov said in 2010 he had turned Moscow into a modern European city and was proud of his achievements. Others say Sergei Sobyanin, the current mayor, achieved that, spending big to oversee an overhaul of transport, roads and parks.

Luzhkov and his second wife, Elena Baturina, who controlled a huge construction company which played a role in Moscow's transformation, denied allegations of cronyism or corruption.

Luzhkov blamed some of the allegations, aired on state television before then President Dmitry Medvedev fired him in 2010, on his political foes.

Luzhkov's wife Baturina is worth an estimated $1.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine, and is Russia's richest woman. She spends time in London, where the couple sent their two daughters to study.

Luzhkov was first appointed mayor by then President Boris Yeltsin. The United Russia party he helped set up in 2001 has helped Putin keep power but, after falling out with Medvedev in 2010, Luzhkov became outspoken in his criticism of the Kremlin.


(Editing by Timothy Heritage)