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NEWSMAKER-Putin's man may be next mayor of Moscow

* Deputy PM Sergei Sobyanin tops candidate list

* Has experience running major region

* Regarded as Putin’s loyalist

MOSCOW, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Sergei Sobyanin, chief of staff to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has emerged as the frontrunner among candidates to run Moscow after the dismissal of longtime mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

The appointment of the man who has been Putin’s top aide since 2005 would further strengthen the prime minister’s grip on power in the run-up to a 2012 presidential election in which he has hinted he may return to the Kremlin.

President Dmitry Medvedev sacked Luzhkov after an 18-year stint that saw the transformation of Moscow from a bleak post-Soviet capital into a bustling megapolis which accounted for a quarter of the Russian economy in 2009.

Putin’s United Russia party, which holds a majority in the city council, submitted a shortlist of four candidates for the job to Medvedev, who has to pick one candidate for formal approval back at the city council.

Sobyanin, 52, has the experience of successfully running a major Russian region comparable in size and influence with Moscow. He also has worked in both the Kremlin and government.


Sobyanin was born in 1958 in the ethnic Mansi village of Nyaksimvol in Siberia’s resource-rich Khanti-Mansiisk autonomous district, named after two traditionally reindeer-herding ethnic groups that have long lived there. His father was the village head and his mother an accountant.

Sobyanin worked at the Chelyabinsk pipe factory before starting a political career. He rose through administrative ranks in the oil and gas town of Kogalym where he worked with future oil major LUKOIL LKOH.MM CEO Vagit Alekperov.

In 2001 Sobyanin was elected governor of Tyumen region, Russia’s third-largest, which includes Khanti-Mansiisk. Tyumen’s economy is the second-largest among Russia’s 83 adminstrative regions, after Moscow.

Through his work in Russia's richest oil province Sobyanin became well connected with oil barons, including Vladimir Bogdanov, CEO of Surgutneftegaz SNGS.MM, and billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Unlike Luzhkov and some other regional bosses who never fully accepted Putin’s 2004 decision to abolish direct regional election, Sobyanin was quick to seek -- and secure -- Putin’s approval to stay on in his job.

Sobyanin moved to Moscow as Putin’s Kremlin chief of staff in 2005, replacing Medvedev, who joined the government as a deputy prime minister before being officially anointed by Putin as his successor.

In 2008 Sobyanin ran Medvedev’s election campaign and political analysts say this was a key to ensuring Medvedev’s convincing victory and a smooth transition of the presidency from Putin to Medvedev.

Sobyanin migrated to the cabinet after Putin became prime minister the day after Medvedev’s inauguration in May 2008.

Sobyanin is an avid cross-country skier who says he had learned to ski before starting to walk. He is married with two daughters. (Writing by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Mark Heinrich)