MOSCOW – Russia announced Tuesday it was pouring $5.4 billion in additional funding into its security agencies, the first concrete new step in the anti-terrorism battle that President Vladimir Putin (search) has called the country's No. 1 priority.
"The fight against terrorism requires a long-range perspective," Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said in announcing the funding, ITAR Tass news agency said a day after Putin proposed a major extension of Kremlin control over Russia's political and security structures.
Russia's main security agencies — the Federal Security Service, Interior Ministry and Foreign Intelligence Service — will split an additional $1.71 billion in funding. The Defense Ministry will receive an additional $3.66 billion ITAR-Tass reported, citing Kudrin.
Kudrin had already committed $68.5 in next year's budget to a new anti-terrorism program that would be used to increase security in public places, including Moscow's subway system.
In response to a series of terrorist attacks that killed some 430 people in the past three weeks, Putin said a central, powerful anti-terror agency must be created, but details were not made public.
At Monday's emergency meeting of his Cabinet, top security officials and regional governors, Putin also announced a radical restructure of Russia's electoral system that would increase Kremlin control over every layer of Russian political life.
Under the plan, popularly elected governors would be replaced by those nominated by the president, and voters would cast ballots for parties instead of individual candidates — ending the practice of legislators representing specific districts.
Now, half the members of the lower house of parliament are chosen from party lists and half elected in individual races. The chamber, the State Duma, is dominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party (search).
Putin's supporters praised the plan Tuesday.
"Strong political parties are the basis of the political system," pro-Kremlin lawmaker Mikhail Grishankov told state-controlled Channel One.
Many newspapers, Web sites and radio stations, which have escaped the government control that has settled over Russia's mass media, called the plan a step backward for democracy.
The Kommersant daily said "the only representative of the executive branch who will be elected by all the people will be the president of Russia."
Izvestia commented that the plan reflected both the desire for a more efficient state and disillusionment with democracy.
"Over the 15 years of its new life, civil society in Russia hasn't really awakened," the newspaper said. "And the president has decided that in conditions demanding fast, effective, and often urgent decisions it's better not to have such a society — because the authorities are uncertain of the results of waking it."
Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the few independent lawmakers to have been elected to the State Duma, accused Putin of violating the constitution. He told reporters that the Constitutional Court had established in 1996 that governors could only be popularly elected.
Human rights advocate Lyudmila Alexeyeva told the Vremya Novostei daily that the final subordination of the regions to the center "kills the very idea of the federation."
Stanislav Belkovsky, an analyst considered close to the former KGB officers in Putin's administration, said the president was "liquidating regional politics."
"In the current situation, the transition from federalism to a unitary state is political suicide," Vremya Novostei quoted him as saying. "What's happening now is the biggest mistake of Vladimir Putin's rule."
Most of Putin's initiatives had little to do with increasing Russians' security and everything to do with furthering the Kremlin's clout.
Putin's mistrust for local officials runs so deep, Izvestia said, "he has decided on an extreme step: finally to take responsibility himself for events in the country."