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Putin Political Proposals Generate Controversy - 2004-09-14

Russia's finance minister has announced that the government is planning to invest billions of dollars in its security services next year to help combat terrorism. The announcement comes just one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to tighten control over the country's political system, a move he says is aimed at improving security. But critics in Moscow and elsewhere say the Kremlin is just trying to expand its powers.

According to the Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, the fight against terror will be a top budget priority in the coming year. He says two-thirds of the planned $5 billion investment will go to the Russian Ministry of Defense and the rest to the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Intelligence Service.

The announcement came just a day after President Putin proposed changes the election system that would give him control over who can become a provincial governor, and would likely give his party even greater control of the powerful lower house of parliament, the State Duma. At the London School of Economics, Russia analyst Margot Light says the initiative would make it even more difficult for opposition parties to be represented in the Duma. "I think that the electoral moves bode very ill for the opposition, because although it was hard for some of the parties to break the threshold, to get into parliament under the proportional representational system, some of them managed to get individual deputies elected," she said. "And that meant that there are some voices in parliament that are not necessarily dependent on the Kremlin and not necessarily likely to support them in all their policies."

President Putin's proposed change on the election of provincial governors seems particularly odd to Moscow-based political analyst Yuri Korgunyuk.

Mr. Korgunyuk says the president is simply using terrorism to strengthen his authority. He says this is a convenient moment for the president to change his view on the election of the governors, who he had always said should be elected by the people. Under the proposed change, the president would nominate the governors, who would be approved by the provincial legislatures. In recent years, they have been elected directly by the people.

President Putin's political proposals came just a few days after more than 300 people, half of them children, were killed in a series of explosions and shootouts after gunmen seized a school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia. The day before the siege began, at least 100 people were killed in terrorist attacks on two airplanes and a Metro station.

Supporters of the president's plan say his initiatives are needed to improve security in the country.

The chairman of the regional legislature in Nizhny Novgorod, south of Moscow, Evgeni Lumen, says President Putin's initiatives will make officials at all levels more powerful and accountable, and that, he says, will improve security.

So analysts on both sides of the issue agree that the political changes will increase the power of President Putin and his supporters, but they disagree on whether that is a good thing, and whether it will really help fight terrorism.