MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin on Monday set rules for naming governors of Russia’s 8 9 regions after pushing through a law that abolished their direct election amid a continuing consolidation of power by the Kremlin.
The decree signed by Putin gives the presidential chief-of-staff the task of drawing up and submitting lists of gubernatorial candidates to the president.
Presidential envoys to the seven federal districts will compile names of candidates and pass them to the Kremlin. The nomination process will consider a candidate’s image, business reputation and record as a civil servant or public figure, the decree said.
Putin announced sweeping electoral reforms shortly after the September hostage-taking at a school in southern Russia that left more than 330 people dead. He said the reforms would strengthen federal authority to avert future attacks and dismissed warnings that the moves would push Russia back toward its authoritarian past. Parliament quickly approved Putin’s bill to abolish gubernatorial elections.
Some local governors have criticized the electoral reforms. In response, Putin has promised to grant them more say over drafting the federal budget and to give regions more economic independence.
The United States has also criticized the changes, causing Putin to bristle. Further irritated by differences over Ukraine’s presidential elections, Putin has accused the West in general and the United States in particular of trying to narrow Russia’s sway in the ex-Soviet republics.
Nevertheless, Putin last week said the United States and Russia remain partners.
In follow-up comments, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that he expects U.S.-Russian ties to improve and called for stronger cooperation on global security issues, according to an interview released by the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Russia and the United States are “allies in countering terrorism and the threats associated with it,” he said. “At the level of our leaders, there is full awareness that we must be together by all means in the struggle against this enemy.”
However, Lavrov also said Washington should not apply “double standards” in its identification of terrorists and urged the United States to be more open about its military presence near Russian borders.
Russia has cast the six-year-old war in Chechnya (news – web sites) as a battle against international terrorism and bristled at Western calls for peace talks with rebels. It has also lashed out at Washington and London for giving asylum to Chechen rebel leaders.
Lavrov called on the United States to be upfront about the possible redeployment of its forces closer to Russia’s borders.
“The most important issue is strategic stability as a whole, especially as NATO (news – web sites) is enlarging and the U.S. military presence abroad is being reconfigured,” Lavrov said. “We need clarity in our relations with the Americans because our country’s security depends on it.”