- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

Russia's powerful regional governors yesterday bluntly attacked a Kremlin plan to slash their powers amid reports that President Vladimir Putin's proposal to centralize power in Moscow is even more ambitious than advertised.
The debate in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, which is dominated by the regional governors and lawmakers, featured some of the most pointed criticism to date of Mr. Putin, who took office a month ago.
"We should express our total lack of agreement with this law," said Vitaly Kotov, head of the regional assembly of the Vladimir region. "This is a process for the destruction of the state."
Leonid Roketsky, governor of the Tyumen region, said the Putin plan would leave the country's 89 regional governors "absolutely dependent on Moscow and stripped of their rights. It's a violation of all democratic norms."
The Kremlin proposal aims at the governors' power base and is designed to assert Moscow's primacy in the long-running power struggle with the regions. Mr. Putin and his supporters argue that vital economic and legal reforms cannot go forward if the individual regions are free to ignore federal laws and constitutional restrictions.
Mr. Putin would abolish the right of the governors to an automatic seat in the Federation Council and give himself the right to fire regional leaders found guilty of wrongdoing. The president has already created seven "superdistricts" headed by his own appointees as a new level of management over the governors.
During a brief trip to Italy earlier this week, Mr. Putin said the seven new district chiefs would enjoy wide authority to fight corruption, which has plagued the country since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Russian newspaper Segodnya, citing Russian Interior Ministry sources, reported yesterday that the Kremlin-dominated districts will take over many of the economic crime-fighting units formerly overseen by the governors, including the tax police, the customs service and the anti-corruption units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, approved Mr. Putin's reorganization plan overwhelmingly on May 31, with enough votes to override any possible veto by the upper house.
But the Duma still must take two more votes on the package, with many in Moscow predicting Mr. Putin will have to swallow a number of amendments before final passage.
By a narrower margin, the Duma yesterday gave its approval to the first of three readings of a Putin-backed bill to establish a single income tax rate of 13 percent, replacing a graduated system with top rates of 30 percent that has been widely flouted by Russian taxpayers.
Communist delegates, who had largely backed Mr. Putin on the reorganization plan, opposed the tax bill as favoring the rich.
The Kremlin was forced to delay again the introduction of a second tax bill, essential to Mr. Putin's plans to overhaul the Russian economy.
The Federation Council did not reject Mr. Putin's plan outright yesterday.
Delegates suggested several fundamental changes, however, including allowing regional governors and regional assemblies to nominate one member each to the upper chamber and permitting current representatives to serve out their terms before switching to the new system.
The council appealed to Mr. Putin to establish a special commission to discuss the reorganization.
On another front, Mr. Putin's government signaled it plans to continue its drive to create an alternative to the national missile defense plan President Clinton is considering.
Just after rejecting Mr. Clinton's proposal at a Moscow summit over the weekend, Mr. Putin in Italy sought support for a pan-European missile shield. The Putin idea would protect Russia and Europe using far different technology than that favored now by U.S. military planners.
Russian sources yesterday said Defense Secretary Igor Sergeyev will present more details of the still-sketchy proposal when he meets with NATO defense ministers starting today in Brussels.
This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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