Moscow politician and part-time rock musician Mikhail Men could become the third key ally of Mayor Yury Luzhkov's to be appointed a governor this year after being picked as one of three candidates to run the Ivanovo region.
The nomination comes after two other key Luzhkov allies were appointed to head regions, adding to speculation that the Kremlin is dispersing Luzhkov's team in an effort to prevent a loyal successor taking over the reins at City Hall when he retires.
Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev was appointed Nizhny Novgorod governor in August, and State Duma Deputy Speaker Georgy Boos, another close Luzhkov ally, was sworn in as Kaliningrad governor last week.
The term of Ivanovo's current governor, Communist Vladimir Tikhonov, runs out Dec. 27.
Georgy Poltavchenko, the Kremlin's envoy to the Central Federal District, nominated Men to succeed Tikhonov, Interfax reported Friday.
The other two candidates are Yury Smirnov, who represents the Ivanovo Duma in the Federation Council, and Valery Mozhzhukhin, the region's federal inspector, a source in the regional Duma said, Kommersant reported.
The speaker of the Ivanovo Duma, Vladimir Grishin, said the legislature's United Russia faction would back Men for governor, Kommersant reported.
President Vladimir Putin singled out Tikhonov for criticism in his televised call-in show last Tuesday, saying that he had failed to implement the Kremlin's benefits reform. Earlier last month, Putin met with Tikhonov in the Kremlin.
Tikhonov, a moderate Communist, was the first governor to attack Putin's proposal last September to appoint governors, calling it "undemocratic and unconstitutional" later that month.
In March, the local branches of United Russia, People's Party, Party of Life and LDPR, as well as the Ivanovo writers' organization and other NGOs, called on Putin to fire Tikhonov.
Since the scrapping of direct gubernatorial elections this January, Putin has to nominate his candidate 35 days before an incumbent governor's term ends. The candidate has then to be confirmed by the regional legislature, a vote that is seen as a mere formality since Putin has the right to dismiss legislatures if they refuse to accept his candidate.
Men said he was pleased to be nominated.
"It is not important whom the president chooses. It is important that the presidential envoy has shown trust in me," Men said, Kommersant reported Friday.
In the Moscow city government, Men, 44, is responsible for sports and is the city's liaison to religious and cultural organizations. Like Luzhkov and his supporters in the city government, he is a member of United Russia.
Apart from his day job, Men is also a well-known rock musician. In the 1980s, he was a bass guitarist and singer with heavy metal band Most, and last year he recorded an album of his 1980s-era songs in English with former Deep Purple veterans Glenn Hughes and Joe Lynn Turner.
"It's fantastic," Lynn Turner said by telephone from the United States when he heard of Men's candidacy. "He's a very nice guy for a politician."
When asked if he would make the trip to Ivanovo, 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow, Lynn Turner said, "Yes, I would, but only because it is him."
Men's candidacy shows that the Kremlin is preparing a change of power in Moscow, but before then it wants to clear Luzhkov's key allies out of City Hall, political analysts said.
"This means that Luzhkov's departure has been preordained and people from his team are looking for other jobs," said Nikolai Petrov, scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "They believe that Luzhkov is going to be replaced with someone who is not part of their group."
Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst at the Indem think tank, said that the Kremlin was afraid that Luzhkov's team "could organize opposition in City Hall when he leaves."
"This is why Luzhkov's allies are being appointed to other posts," Korgunyuk said.
"The Kremlin also wants to keep Luzhkov and his team happy after they lose power in Moscow. This is why deputy mayors and people close to him are being appointed as governors," he said.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said the placing of Luzhkov's allies as governors did not necessarily mean that the mayor was losing influence.
"Luzhkov must have someone very influential in the Kremlin helping him. If Putin decides not to run for president in 2008, Luzhkov could be a good replacement," Pribylovsky said.
But Pribylovsky said Luzhkov would run only if Putin decided not to seek a third term.
The appointment of loyal governors to key regions could help Putin -- or Luzhkov -- in the 2008 presidential elections, as well as United Russia in the 2007 Duma elections, Pribylovsky said.
"About 10 percent of the vote depends on the governors," he said.
The analysts said the Kremlin was unlikely to fire Luzhkov before 2007, since it would be difficult to replace him with someone able to guarantee a good showing for United Russia in the upcoming elections.
Men was born in the small town of Zagorsk, 60 kilometers north of Moscow, the son of Alexander Men, a respected Orthodox priest and theologian.
His father was murdered in 1990 in a killing that remains unsolved.
After earning a doctorate in philosophy from the Moscow Institute of Culture, Men was elected in 1993 to the Moscow Regional Duma from Zagorsk, which has since been renamed Sergiyev Posad, and to the State Duma in 1995.
There he served as a deputy chairman of the Culture Committee and was instrumental in getting a law passed that required singers to state when they were lip-synching during live performances.
Men was elected deputy governor of the Moscow region in 2000 and deputy mayor of Moscow in 2002, The Moscow Times reported.