MOSCOW – Parliament's lower house on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would give President Vladimir Putin more freedom to send forces abroad to fight terrorism, and tighten restrictions on media coverage of anti-terror operations inside Russia.
In a 429-0 vote, State Duma lawmakers approved amendments to a series of laws in a move they said was connected to Russia's ratification of a Council of Europe anti-terrorism convention.
One change would remove a requirement that the president provide details about a planned operation when requesting permission from the upper parliament house, the Federation Council, to use military or security forces for anti-terrorist operations abroad.
Existing law requires that he provide details on operations using forces outside Russia; Backers of the legislation said that could jeopardize operations by telegraphing information to terrorists. And according to the newspaper Kommersant, existing law mentions only armed forces — not special forces.
Putin ordered special forces a week ago to hunt down and "destroy" the killers of four Russian Embassy staffers who were kidnapped and slain in Iraq, and the vote appeared aimed at giving such operations a legal stamp of approval.
"Such norms exist all over the world, and that fact that we will have it in a law is a positive thing," Duma legislative committee chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov said. He said it would help protect the participants in such actions.
On Tuesday, Putin had asked the Federation Council to authorize him to send armed forces or security agents abroad to fight terrorism. It was unclear, however, whether he was asking for blanket approval for any future operations, requesting permission for a specific operation without providing details, or seeking broaden his formal powers to include dispatching special forces in addition to armed forces.
Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov suggested Putin was seeking open-ended approval to use forces abroad against terrorism when deemed necessary — and that the lawmakers would grant it, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.
"We will indicate that we give the president such approval ... until the removal of the threat to the interests of Russia and the lives of Russian citizens," the agency quoted Mironov as saying.
The amendments passed Wednesday by the lower house must also be approved by the Federation Council, an appointed chamber that is virtually a rubber stamp for Putin's policies.
The legislation would also allow officials leading anti-terror operations in Russia to set rules for media coverage on a case-by-case basis, and prohibit media from releasing information about such operations if it could jeopardize their chances of success or endanger people.
Russian law enforcement authorities have been highly sensitive about media coverage of operations to resolve hostage crises such as the seizure of a Moscow theater in 2002 and of a school in the southern town of Beslan in 2004. The law will apparently give them more formal power to restrict coverage.
The legislation, which needs approval from the upper house, would also allow confiscation of money and property from people charged with terrorist activity or particularly grave crimes, or obtained as a result of crime.