September 01, 2005

Security vs. Democracy

Will President Vladimir Putin introduce direct federal control over the Northern Caucasus region? Whether or not he does will have a bearing on the future structure of the government of the Russian Federation.

Over the past year, there have been significant changes in Russia’s system of government. Prior to events in the North Ossetian city of Beslan, the right of residents of the outlying regions of the Russian Federation to elect their own leadership was not doubted. However, after Chechen fighters seized a Beslan school in September 2004 and held more than 1300 people there for three days (317 hostages, including 186 children, died in the course of military efforts to free them; as of August 1, the death toll had reached 331), President Putin decided that citizens’ excessive political independence was contrary to the interests of national security. So, by December Putin had signed two laws granting him the right to directly appoint governors. Local legislatures must approve the presidential appointment, but half a year hence there has not yet been a single case of Putin’s appointee being rejected.

However, even such a significant curtailment of regional authority seemed insufficient to the Kremlin. Within Putin’s inner circle, a proposal is being drafted for the transfer of a number of Russia’s administrative divisions to direct central control. The first region where such a model might be tried is the Northern Caucasus, and the first high-ranking Russian official to voice the idea has been Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, a man who enjoys the president’s complete confidence.

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