Bush Tells Putin to Uphold 'Principles of Democracy'; Russia Not Interested in Advice from U.S

Article excerpt

Byline: Joseph Curl, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush said yesterday that he is "concerned" that a new plan by Russian President Vladimir Putin to fight terror by centralizing political power could undermine democracy in Russia.

"As governments fight the enemies of democracy, they must uphold the principles of democracy," Mr. Bush said in his first comment on Mr. Putin's proposal.

Mr. Bush said that when he visited the Russian Embassy in Washington shortly after the recent terrorist attack on a school in Russia, he told Mr. Putin that "we stand shoulder to shoulder with him in fighting terror, that we abhor the men who kill innocent children to try to achieve a dark vision."

"I'm also concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia," Mr. Bush said in a speech yesterday in the White House East Room.

In Russia, the Kremlin told the Bush administration to mind its own business.

"First of all, the processes that are under way in Russia are our internal affair," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters yesterday in Kazakhstan, where former Soviet states are set to meet today to figure out a joint approach to fighting terrorism.

Mr. Putin announced last week that he plans an extensive overhaul of government in response to the school attack in Beslan by Chechen rebels earlier this month. The terrorists took more than 1,200 hostages, killing 338 persons, more than half of them children.

But several Bush administration officials have expressed concern about Mr. Putin's plan to nominate regional governors himself and enact changes to the electoral system that effectively will stop the rise of a strong parliamentary opposition.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned Russia on Tuesday that broad new anti-terrorism moves announced by Mr. Putin could harm the country's fledgling democracy.

Mr. Powell said Mr. Putin's plan 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 said.

Mr. …