|Luzhkov, at left, had challenged the Russian president to back off from confrontation or sack him [AFP]
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has signed a decree dismissing the mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, according to Russian news agencies.
The order came a day after he defied the Kremlin, saying he had no plans to resign of his own free will and effectively challenging Medvedev to back off or sack him.
Medvedev, who has not publicly commented on Luzkhov, was on an official visit to China when the decree was signed. The reason given was that Luzhkov had "lost the trust of the president of the Russian federation", Itar-Tass news agency said.
Luzhkov, 74, has led the Russian capital since 1992 but lately faced harsh criticism from the Kremlin. He has angered the Kremlin by criticising Medvedev and suggesting the country needs a stronger leader in 2012 presidential elections.
The clash is widely seen as a test of the resolve of Medvedev, the junior partner to Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, in the run-up to the election.
Some Russians believe Luzhkov's downfall is part of a wider political tussle between Putin and Medvedev. However, Dmitry Babich, a specialist in Russian politics, plays down such talk.
"I think it's too simplistic, because rumours about Luzhkov's resignation have been circulating for a long time, even before President Medvedev's coming to power," he told Al Jazeera from Moscow.
Referring to Medvedev and Putin's relationship, he said: "They are pragmatic politicians. They understand that if they now stage a quarrel, that will end badly for both of them."
Target of campaign
Whatever the reality, there is no denying that the state media has run a vigorous campaign against Luzhkov. Television programmes have accused him of corruption and mismanagement while unnamed Kremlin sources have been quoted as saying he should resign.
But on his first day back at work in Moscow after a one-week holiday in Austria, Luzhkov was defiant.
"I have no plans to leave of my own volition," Luzhkov told the Interfax news agency early on Monday. Looking harried and distracted, he declined all comment when pressed on his plans by reporters at a later public speaking engagement.
Russia's constitution allows Medvedev to sack Luzhkov, along with other regional officials, at will and to appoint a successor.
Luzhkov is one the last of a generation who ruled their regions as mini-states under the fragile presidency of Boris Yeltsin in the early 1990s. Putin reined in the regions after replacing Yeltsin as president in 2000, abolishing elections for these posts in 2004.
Medvedev has continued the push, replacing several veteran leaders in recent months, including in Volgograd, Sverdlovsk and Bashkortostan.