On a clearing in the South-Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, where enemy homes were bulldozed after the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, Yuri Luzhkov, Mayor of Moscow, promised this month to build a new neighborhood for the South Ossetian separatists here.
“We are celebrating a great victory — a victory for freedom and independence,” Mayor Luzhkov declared before a boisterous crowd, which hailed him as a liberator. He is so popular in South Ossetia that a street was named after him here in Tskhinvali. A few days before he arrived in South Ossetia, he went to Abkhazia, where he was also greeted as a hero.
He has been the primary Russian patron of the two enclaves, whose ambitions spurred the conflict in August, and he has long required his city to conduct relations with their separatist governments as if they were independent nations.
Luzhkov is a mayor with a foreign policy. He has supported ethnic Russians and stoked separatism in nations along the country’s borders. He has championed a new Russian nationalism that the Kremlin effectively backed with force when it wrested South Ossetia from neighboring Georgia this summer.
Over the past decade, Luzhkov has spent hundreds of millions of dollars from Moscow’s well-padded city budget in Russia’s “near abroad.” He has supported pro-Russian separatists in Moldova, built highways in rebellious Georgian enclaves and constructed housing for the Russian military on the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine.