Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the outrageous terrorist killings of school children in Beslan to reach for more power for himself. Unfortunately, it is all too typical for government leaders to use the fear engendered by attacks to reach for even more power.
Putin’s power grab is shocking for being more blatant and far-ranging than the somewhat more gradual and sometimes subtle process Americans have seen in this country, as detailed in a new book “Against Leviathan,” by historian Robert Higgs.
Putin proposed having the governors of the country’s 89 different regions, who had been elected by popular vote, be nominated by the national president and approved by local legislatures. He would allow only members of national party slates to be elected to the national legislature, or Duma, eliminating the district races that had given that body its few independents and reformers.
As Ted Carpenter of the libertarian Cato Institute said, “That would transform what had been a Boss Tweed-style semi-democracy into a full-blown autocracy.”
Carpenter worries that Vladimir Putin’s power grab might be calculated not just to shore up his internal political power but to set the stage for a return to Russian imperial pretensions. “Certainly, Russia’s neighbors have to be watching nervously,” he said.
Whatever the international implications, Putin’s bold reach for more power does not bode well for the already-fragile hopes for any growth of democratic freedoms in Russia.