Powell Warns Putin on Terror Plan; Says Measures Put Democracy in Russia at Risk

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Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned Russia yesterday that broad new anti-terrorism moves announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin could harm the country's still-struggling democracy.

Mr. Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage criticized Mr. Putin's plan to fight terror by centralizing political power. Mr. Powell said it marked a "pulling back on some of the democratic reforms" in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"You have to find a balance between fighting terrorism in an aggressive way and also making sure that we don't undercut the institutions of state that are based on the foundation of democracy," Mr. Powell told Reuters news agency.

Mr. Armitage, on a visit to Latvia, said the proposals, revealed by Mr. Putin at a Cabinet meeting Monday, "seem to be out of step with the way we'd hoped that Russia would be heading."

Reacting to a string of terrorist strikes in Russia capped by a recent hostage taking that killed at least 327 at a school in Beslan, Mr. Putin issued a decree creating a centralized anti-terrorism agency.

Mr. Putin also proposed major changes in Russia's electoral system as part of the anti-terror drive, measures widely seen as reining in potential rivals and critics of the government.

Mr. Putin's plan would end direct popular elections for Russia's often rebellious regional governors. Governors instead would be nominated by the president and endorsed by regional assemblies.

In addition, members of the State Duma, the lower and more powerful house of the Russian parliament, would be selected solely through party lists, eliminating a whole class of lawmakers elected directly by voters in their districts.

Vice President Dick Cheney, at a campaign stop in Ottumwa, Iowa, said earlier this week that the Russian attacks and Mr. Putin's reaction demonstrated that even governments opposed to the U.S.-led war in Iraq have been forced to confront the challenge of terrorism.

"I think some had hoped that if they kept their heads down and stayed out of the line of fire, they wouldn't get hit," Mr. Cheney said. "I think what happened in Russia demonstrates pretty conclusively that everybody is a target.

"And I think people are sort of reassessing now, in terms of what the motives may be of the people who are launching these attacks or using these kinds of tactics against our people," he said.

Many leading Moscow newspapers took Mr. …