Monday, October 04, 2004

Putin's plan

Opposition to Putin's plan is being vocalized:

President Vladimir V. Putin may have cowed Russia's national political leadership with his plan to concentrate still more power in the Kremlin, but in regions of the country that stand to lose the most, he has inflamed fierce popular discontent.

People in this region along the Volga denounced Mr. Putin's proposal to end direct elections of governors and other regional leaders as unconstitutional and potentially destabilizing. They fear that the Kremlin is planning further steps to recreate a Soviet-like power over the people.

"We had such a long period of restrictions," said Vladislav V. Yefimov, a bookkeeper, referring to the Soviet era. "We were fed up with them. Now we are going to have them again, and I do not understand what for."

The reaction among those interviewed here underscored what polls suggested was seething dissent in this and the other 20 ethnic republics that had achieved a measure of autonomy since the Soviet Union disbanded. In one poll across Russia, nearly half of those surveyed opposed Mr. Putin's proposal. But here, at least anecdotally, the opposition appeared to be stronger.

Mr. Putin has defended his plan, issued days after at least 339 hostages, half of them children, died in a terror siege at a school in Beslan, Russia, by saying he wanted to unify Russia against the threat of terror.

But many warn that it could have the opposite effect, stoking ethnic divisions that in an extreme case dragged Chechnya, another of the republics, into more than a decade of bloodshed.

"Inside this monolithic structure there will be certain movements," said Atner P. Khuzagay, a leader in this republic of Chuvashia as it won some autonomy in the early 1990's. "There will be tension. I would not call it resistance, but tensions will appear."

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