MOSCOW (AP) — The former mayor of Moscow and one of the founders of Russia's ruling United Russia party, Yuri Luzhkov, has died at the age of 83. Russia's Ren TV channel reported Tuesday that Luzhkov died in Munich, Germany, where he was undergoing heart surgery.
Luzhkov, a political heavyweight of the Boris Yeltsin era, was the mayor of Moscow for 18 years and was one of the founders of the United Russia party, Russian President Vladimir Putin's longtime political platform.
A chemical engineer by education, Luzhkov ventured into politics in his early 40s and started working with the Moscow city council in 1977. There he met Boris Yeltsin, an aspiring politician at the time. In 1991, Luzhkov was appointed deputy mayor of Moscow and a year later elected mayor of Moscow — a post he would occupy for the next 18 years.
In 1998, Luzhkov founded a political party, Fatherland, which three years later became part of United Russia after merging with two other smaller political groups. During the presidential elections of 2000, Luzhkov supported Putin and became one of his close allies.
During his tenure, Moscow grew richer and bigger. In memoirs and interviews, Luzhkov frequently said that he brought the city back to life after years of post-Soviet poverty and squalor. At the same time, he was widely criticized for the grandiose architectural style he encouraged and large-scale corruption.
Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, owned one of largest construction companies in the city and carried out some of the most lucrative urban development projects at the time. In 2010, the Forbes magazine named Baturina the third richest woman in the world with a $2.9 billion fortune.
In 2010, Luzhkov was dismissed from his post in the Moscow City Hall by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev despite his close ties to Putin. He moved to London, but remained very vocal about Russian domestic affairs.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Putin extended condolences to Luzhkov's family. “They worked together for many years, and the president has always valued Luzhkov's contribution both to the development of such a giant metropolis (that Moscow is) and to the economy of our country," Peskov said.