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#1
Baltimore Sun
December 5, 2001
Editorial
Putin is dictating, but not by the law
Russia: President's former co-workers have turned legal system into a political weapon.

WHEN HE became Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin pledged to practice a "dictatorship of the law." But instead of creating a predictable civil society of checks and balances, he has turned the legal process into an instrument of the Kremlin's power.

The case against Russia's last independent television network is a revealing example. Stung by the criticism of TV-6, the Kremlin is forcing it off the air because of a minor technical violation of business law.

This is the second time the Kremlin has used hardball tactics against a critical television network. Last spring, it muzzled the gutsy NTV.

In both cases, the full force of government power was unleashed, which included the constant hounding of the networks by the federal tax police. If the tactics smacked of old-time KGB witch hunts, there was a good reason: Former KGB co-workers fill many top jobs in the Putin Cabinet.

The defense minister as well as the chiefs of Russia's domestic and foreign security services are Mr. Putin's former KGB colleagues. So are the top directors of the federal tax police, the interior and trade ministries and Russia's arms export company. Other former KGB buddies occupy key positions in the prosecutor general's office.

A recent exposÚ by the Kommersant-Vlast newspaper showed that Mr. Putin, in addition, controls the levers of power through his former fellow law students at Leningrad University and men who once worked with him at the St. Petersburg municipal administration. These "Putinistas" contribute to the president's "ability to construct complex political powerplays," the newspaper said.

Mr. Putin has not limited his campaign to silencing critical television networks. At his behest, a law was passed in July to limit the number of political parties and subject them to strict government controls. This has enabled Mr. Putin to build the Fatherland movement into a dominant Kremlin-controlled machinery.

Mr. Putin's self-declared goal is not a Western-style democracy but a setup "without the fruitless fight that weakens the state system and undermines respect for authority." His model seems to be dictator Augusto Pinochet's Chile.

Yes, Pinochet made Chile work. But in the process he trampled the civil rights of his citizens. That's the last thing Russia needs. And that's the last thing the Bush administration should tolerate from its new ally.

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