Russian Spetsnaz squad in action
After Putin's recent order to "find and destroy" the Islamic terrorists who killed Russian embassy workers in Iraq, several human rights organizations like "Memorial" and Committee "Citizenship Cooperation" (Grazhdanskoe Sodeystvie) accused Putin of being authoritarian and ignorant of UN conventions and international law. Yesterday, the Duma ignored this criticism of the president and instead expressed their support for his firm message. By unanimously approving an entire packet of anti-terrorism bills in their most conservative form, the Russian Parliament moved past earlier debates and granted the President new powers and funds to counter international terrorism.
According to one new law, the president can now order Russian spetsnaz or intelligence groups to execute operations in foreign countries. The new law was tempered by a provision mandating that the President needs the Federal Assembly's approval before he can utilize Russian military forces. Anatoly Kulikov, the former chief of MVD (Russian police) and current Member of Parliament, explained that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, did not get any extraordinary powers in the new bill. The purpose of the bill is simply to make Russian citizens feel safer while travelling and working abroad.
A law concerning media coverage in the event of a terrorist attack sparked debate on the Duma floor before its passage. This bill makes it clear that all the media work shall be directed by an official commander of the anti-terrorist operation. An independent member of parliament, Stanislav Stavstoshevsky, found this measure ridiculous and argued that police and military commanders would ship journalists 60 miles away from crisis situations. Other MPs didn't share Stavstoshevsky's point of view and decided that a law enforcement professional would be more trustworthy in a high pressure situation than a professional "story-teller".
One MP from Khabarovsk suggested that if the bill puts a government official in charge of the media, the circumstances in which this is permitted should be carefully limited. Anatoly Kulikov had only one response to this demand: "An anti-terrorism operation isn't a talk-show with a happy ending." No amendment to the press provision has been written to date.
While this law may seem extreme to Western observers, Russian journalists are cautious about reporting details of terrorist attacks or military and counterterrorist operations. As Russia Blog has mentioned previously, the idea of a major newspaper leaking details about ongoing or recent intelligence operations is unthinkable in Russia, and Russian media sources would never follow the irresponsible example recently set by the New York Times.
In other news, the Duma reached an agreement last week on a law reviving the institution of confiscations, which did not previously exist in modern democratic Russia. This law, similar to the RICO statutes passed by Congress in the 1970s to fight organized crime, allows the confiscation of property and seizure of bank accounts tied to individuals or organizations involved in terrorism, illegal weapon possession or trafficking, taking bribes, or plotting to assassinate government officials. Some lawmakers originally thought that these qualifications were too extreme, but memories of the Beslan tragedy influenced the Duma's final decision. In Beslan, the terrorists bragged about how easily they bribed local cops to let their vehicles pass by unsearched. This corruption and negligence was the main reason that Shamil Basayev's terrorists were able to kill 350 people, most of them children.
After a short general discussion, all 429 Duma members voted in favor of the legislation, giving Putin a green light for the counterterrorist operation in the Middle East. In addition, the Kremlin promised a $10 million bounty to anyone capable of providing information leading to the capture of the terrorists who murdered five Russian diplomats.