If there were any doubts as to whether President Vladimir Putin
intends to make good on his pledges to restore order and Russia's
reputation as a world power, they are quickly being dispelled. But
some critics say such gains may come at the expense of the country's
moves toward democracy.
In the latest example, Mr. Putin is said to be ready to declare
direct Kremlin rule over Chechnya, a move that will mean security
forces, rather than civilian administrators, remain in charge of the
rebellious Caucasus republic.
"It seems that power in Chechnya will come out of the barrel of a
gun for the foreseeable future," says Alexander Konovalov, director
of the independent Institute of Strategic Assessments in Moscow. "In
many areas now we see Putin attacking complex problems with a single
answer: more centralization and stronger Kremlin power."
Less than a month after his inauguration as the country's second
elected president, Putin is revealing himself as a man in a hurry to
make sweeping changes to the economy and political system. But
critics warn his changes may lead back toward a long tradition of
authoritarian rule rather than apply fresh democratic approaches to
the country's deep and intractable ills.
Last week, Putin ordered Russia divided into seven administrative
zones, each run by a presidential appointee. Of the seven men chosen
to fill the positions, five are from the military or security
forces. Gen. Viktor Kazantsev, who until recently commanded Moscow's
troops in Chechnya, will oversee the North Caucasus administrative
district where the republic is located.
A battery of draft laws before the Kremlin-friendly Duma, the
lower house of parliament, would give Putin unprecedented power to
fire any of the country's 89 elected regional governors. Governors
also would be barred from their current seats in parliament's upper
And in a cost-saving move strongly criticized by environmental
groups, the president disbanded Russia's only federal environmental
agency last week, transferring its responsibilities to the Natural
Resources Ministry. Greenpeace said the ministry has a history of
approving "illegal and environmentally hazardous projects."
Putin launched the latest military invasion of Chechnya in
September, shortly after he was named prime minister by former
President Boris Yeltsin. He has vowed not to repeat the mistakes of
the 1994-1996 Chechen conflict, which ended in a humiliating
withdrawal of Russian forces.
While other regions will retain their elected legislatures and
governors, the plan for Chechnya now under consideration will
involve a form of emergency rule for at least two years. "We are
discussing a model for direct administration over Chechnya, to fit
within the general new model of federal government in the whole
country," says Pavel Krasheninnikov, chief of the Duma's legislative
Supporters say it is the only way to restore constitutional order
to the devastated republic, as well as to rebuild its
infrastructure, reopen schools, pay pensions, and get public
transport running again. …