- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Taking on Putin

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s few remaining political rivals plans a nationwide referendum drive to reclaim political and social rights that have been lost in Mr. Putin’s drive to consolidate power in the Kremlin.

Sergei Glazyev, who finished a distant third to Mr. Putin in the March presidential election, told a small group of Russia analysts during a visit to Washington last week that there has been a sharp erosion of social, political and constitutional rights in his country in the past four months, our correspondent David R. Sands reports.

“We do not have a responsible government in Russia anymore,” Mr. Glazyev told the group gathered at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I predicted it would happen, but nobody could see that it would take place so quickly. The president’s idea of government is that the country should be managed like an army.”

In the wake of the Beslan school massacre early last month, Mr. Putin announced a series of moves to centralize power in his office by undercutting the independence of regional governors and members of parliament.

Allowing Mr. Putin to appoint the country’s governors would mean that “our federal system would not exist anymore,” Mr. Glazyev said. Mr. Putin “could nominate a dog or a horse as governor today, and it would be approved.”

Mr. Glazyev, a nationalist and former Communist Party member, was seen as something of a stalking-horse for Mr. Putin when he broke with the Communists in the December parliamentary elections. Mr. Glazyev’s fledgling Motherland Party was one of the big winners, taking nearly 10 percent of the vote.

But Mr. Glazyev was ousted from the new party in what he says was a Kremlin-backed power play, and he now has become one of Mr. Putin’s harshest critics.

The referendum would call for the restoration of direct elections for regional governors and parliament members; increase taxes on oil and gas interests and cut taxes on workers and entrepreneurs; and outline the federal government’s responsibility to provide basic social welfare, health and education programs.

Mr. Glazyev, 43, who has founded a new political party, said he thinks he can get the 2 million signatures needed to force the national referendum, but that a bigger hurdle will be obtaining official approval for the vote from Kremlin-controlled “bureaucrats” in the federal election commission.

Canadian in Virginia

A Canadian lawyer in Richmond is the newest honorary consul for Canada.

William J. Benos, a member of the Williams Mullen law firm in the Virginia capital, will represent Canada as a goodwill ambassador, promoting contacts between the state and the federal government in Ottawa, encouraging business contacts and explaining Canada’s positions on key issues.

“Bill Benos brings a clear understanding of Canadian interests and values, coupled with his extensive knowledge of and connections to the Virginia business and political communities,” said Canadian Ambassador Michael Kergin. “His mission is to help strengthen our affiliations and build awareness of the importance of our two-way trade and investment.”

Mr. Benos, a member of Virginia’s third-largest law firm since 1988, said he is excited to represent Canada in the capital of the Confederacy.

“There already is a strong Canadian business presence in Richmond, and I look forward to building more partnerships,” he said.

Mr. Kergin said Canada is Virginia’s No. 1 foreign trading partner. Bilateral trade topped $4.7 billion last year and accounted for 141,000 jobs in Virginia.

Mr. Benos, who will be paid $20,000 a year for his service, is Canada’s eighth honorary consul in the United States. The others are in Cleveland; Memphis, Tenn.; New Orleans; Omaha, Neb.; Pittsburgh; Portland, Maine; and Portland, Ore.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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