|Putin floats plans to tighten grip on Russia after deadly attacks
MOSCOW : President Vladimir Putin announced plans to tighten Kremlin control over Russia's sprawling regions along with other steps needed to combat terrorism after the Beslan school hostage tragedy.
In wide-ranging remarks to more than 500 top officials from throughout the country, Putin said the current structure of state power was not sufficient to fight terror adequately.
He told the meeting called in response to the Beslan crisis that powerful regional governors currently chosen by universal suffrage should instead be elected by legislative bodies acting on a "proposal from the head of state."
And all 450 members of the State Duma, the national parliament, should be chosen by proportional representation instead of under the current system whereby half are chosen that way and the other half by direct majority vote.
"We have not achieved visible results in rooting out terrorism and in destroying its sources," Putin told the Kremlin meeting, also attended by cabinet ministers and senior regional officials and policy advisors.
The roots of terrorism, he added, "lie in unemployment, in insufficiently effective socio-economic policy and in insufficient education."
Putin said his proposals for changes in the election of regional governors and members of the State Duma would be submitted to the legislature by year's end and pledged that they would be drafted in accordance with the Constitution.
The Russian leader announced the measures 10 days after hundreds of children and parents were killed in the violent end to a three-day hostage siege at the school in Beslan in the southern Russian region of North Ossetia.
That tragedy capped a series of extremist attacks in Russia that included the near-simultaneous bombing of two commercial airliners on August 24 and a suicide bomb attack near a crowded Moscow subway station on August 31.
Putin announced two days after the tragic end to the Beslan school crisis that he planned to undertake sweeping measures to tighten security nationwide and to correct lapses that arose with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Some however warned that his proposals Monday could backfire by diminishing the accountability of elected officials before voters and concentrating too much power in the hands of one man.
"Of course, this initiative has positive aspects. But I think negative factors outweigh [the positive ones]. And what counts most is that this will undoubtedly limit people's rights, including the fact that people will lose their right to make a choice," former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told Interfax on Monday.
"Putin has planned to centralise power and tighten the screws from the time he came to power," commented Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem think-tank in Moscow.
"Terrorism is the pretext. The goal is to place the entire power apparatus under his personal control."
In a statement, the liberal Yabloko party described the measures proposed by Putin as "anti-Constitutional" and said that if approved by the Duma they would mark "the end of federalism" in Russia.
Vladimir Pekhtin, the deputy speaker of the Duma and a leading member of the pro-Putin United Russia Party, voiced support for Putin's initiatives, saying the country "today, like never before" needed such measures.
In his address, the Russian president also focused specifically on the northern Caucasus, describing the area as "an important strategic region for Russia" but also one "where the position of terrorists is strengthening."
Unemployment was significantly higher and health care standards and other social benefits significantly lower in the north Caucasus than elsewhere in Russia, creating ripe conditions for extremists, he said.
"The fight against terrorism demands a radical renewal of the entire policy in the north Caucasus," Putin said.
He announced the creation of a new federal commission to be headed by Dmitry Kozak, the government's chief of staff and a close Putin ally, whose main task would be to find ways to improve the standard of living in the north Caucasus.
Putin also repeated warnings from other senior officials in recent days that Russia would go after "terrorists" wherever it found them.
"Terrorists must be eliminated directly in their lairs, and if the situation requires it they must be attacked, including abroad," Putin said.
"The fight against terror is our shared duty and it requires mobilization of all the resources of the state," he added.