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The Battle for Moscow

PARIS – Today’s most important political battle in Russia is not for control of the Kremlin, but for power over its capital city. Indeed, the outcome of Moscow’s mayoral election campaign concerns every Russian – and everyone who is interested in Russia’s fate.

Just as presidential elections in the United States matter for the entire world, mayoral elections in Moscow matter for Russia’s national politics – and thus for its economy. So what happens in Moscow on September 8 (and, possibly, in the run-off election two weeks later) will have profound implications for the country’s future.

The election is a watershed for several reasons. For starters, this is the first Moscow mayoral campaign since President Vladimir Putin canceled subnational elections in 2005. (Putin’s one-term successor, Dmitri Medvedev, now the prime minister, reinstated them in 2011.) Since the last mayoral election in 2004, Moscow has changed dramatically. It is now not only the largest and most important subnational entity in the Russian Federation; it also is a major European capital, a global business destination, and a large consumer market.

Per capita income in Moscow is similar to that of Spain or Italy. The size of Moscow’s city budget is close to that of New York City. Officially 12 million people live in Moscow (not counting commuters and irregular immigrants) – more than in an average European country. And yet, before this year, Moscow’s mayor was appointed by the federal government, not elected by Muscovites.