Monday, September 13, 2004

Tightening the Screws

On the evidence of the following, the Kremlin propaganda machine has started to grind in earnest now:

From today's RFE/RL Newsline:

Speaking at an expanded cabinet meeting including the heads of the 89 subjects of the Russian Federation and the heads of practically all federal institutions, President Vladimir Putin announced on 13 September radical changes in the organization of the political system in Russia, Russian news agencies reported. First, he proposed that the leaders of federation subjects, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, no longer be elected by direct ballot, but by the regional legislators endorsing candidates recommended by the president. Second, Putin suggested abolishing the single-mandate-district election system for the Duma, which constitutes half of the mandates in the lower chamber, and electing all deputies by the proportional, party-list system. The Central Election Commission has long been advocating this reform. Third, Putin proposed that before bills are submitted to the parliament, they must pass through a special new body to be called the public chamber. Putin also announced the creation of a special Federal Commission on the North Caucasus, headed by former presidential-administration head Dmitrii Kozak. Putin also appointed Kozak as his new envoy to the Southern Federal District, while the previous envoy, Vladimir Yakovlev, is to become minister of a reinstituted Nationalities Ministry. Putin also announced a decision to ban extremist organizations, which are the "breeding ground for terrorism," and stressed Russia's determination to fight terrorism anywhere in the world.

In an interview with NTV on 12 September, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that although Russia has been at war with terrorism for a long time, the string of recent terrorist attacks, including the Beslan hostage taking, shows that this war is taking on "a systemic character," reported. Russia faces "very serious forces," who are well-organized, well-directed, and supported by "very large financial resources," he said. To fight this war, Russia needs more than military force, all of society must be involved. He also confirmed the Kremlin decision to reserve the right to carry out preemptive strikes against international terrorists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004). Ivanov said that "we are not going to tell anyone in advance how we are going to deliver a preemptive strike. Neither are we going to warn anyone in advance." He also said that because terrorism is an international threat, no country, however strong it is, can cope with it alone. He added that he has spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently and that the U.S. and Russian positions on this are much closer to each other than either is to that of Europe.

Speaking to TV-Tsentr on 10 September, Sergei Karaganov, the president of the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, said that in its own interests Russia should curtail anti-Western rhetoric in reaction to Western criticism of Russian failures during the Beslan school siege. Some media and lower-level politicians in the West continue to relate to Russia with suspicion and misunderstanding as they are "hostages of Cold War thinking and we can do nothing with them," he added. "But I must assure you that none of the Western leaders today shares such sentiments toward Russia," he stressed. As for Russia itself, it must understand that terrorism is the weapon of the weak, a product of 1960s decolonization when there emerged too many failed states that are unable to control their territory and population. It is up to Russia to determine whether it will also fall into this category and became an object of terrorism or together with West it will became an active fighter of it. If Russia manages to turn its army into modern combat force and get rid of its dependence on oil exports, it will join the West; if not, it will go into the category of failed states.


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