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September 13, 2004
Putin Moves To Consolidate Power In Russia

In a move that has been widely anticipated, Russian President Vladimir Putin made sweeping changes to the Russian electoral system, citing the massacre in Beslan to excuse the emergency action:

The Kremlin leader, speaking in the wake of the hostage crisis in Beslan, told top officials he wanted a new election law to limit the number of political parties and to have full control over nominating regional leaders. ...

The president later issued a decree giving the government two weeks to draft proposals to deal with emergencies and a month to prepare "appropriate measures on foreseeing and preventing terrorism in any form."

In acting to limit the number of political parties and to force all seats in the Duma to be elected directly from their lists, Putin hopes to contain any radical elements from blocking his legislative programs and causing any disruption in his executive power. It also will have a chilling effect on those parties that are left on the "approved" list, knowing that Putin's displeasure at their policies may put them at risk for decertification.

In addition, Putin wants to have executive approval over nominations for regional governors, a move that will increase Putin's influence even more than his new restrictions on the Duma. The plan recalls the party-line control of the Soviet era, where only "approved" candidates appeared on ballots and always ran unopposed for their positions.

Without a doubt, Putin wants to use Beslan to increase his personal power at the expense of Russian rights to self-determination. But will it help Putin battle against terrorism? It seems rather doubtful. After all, just as in the US, the days after the terrible and cruel crimes against the children of Beslan would undoubtedly have seen the Duma cheerfully approving whatever funding would be necessary to strengthen Russian counterterrorism and military forces in order to avoid another such massacre. After such an attack, it doesn't take a dictator to rally the people -- I would argue that dictatorships actually impede such a response rather than help.

In the end, it looks like Beslan will give Putin the excuse to push to his eventual destination just that much faster than before. Spain may have been the first terrorist victory, and the Phillipines the second, but Russia may be the first time their action resulted in the loss of liberty that they hate. Despite Putin's call to work closely with the US on counterterrorism -- assistance that will pay off very well in the years to come -- I can't help but think that Russia will wind up paying a much steeper and more permanent price than Beslan.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 13, 2004 5:58 PM

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