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#12 - JRL 7002
People's insecurity remains president's concern 2003 (commentary).
By Veronika Voskoboinikova, Mikhail Kalmykov
January 2, 2003

One of the last documents President Vladimir Putin signed into law at the end of last year was the increase in 2003 federal budget spending on anti-terrorist struggle by 500 million rubles.

Thereby the president in fact gave an answer to the question whether Russian citizens' lives today are more secure than they were a year ago. No, they are not.

Putin makes no secret of this. He has repeatedly described the struggle against terrorism and crime as the authorities' priority. In fairness one must say, though, that the leaders of other countries, including the United States, cannot boast a greater degree of readiness to resist the tide of terrorism. It is not accidental that cooperation in that sphere was high on the agenda of President Putin's talks with many world leaders - George Bush, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Jiang Zemin and CIS heads of state and government.

Putin acknowledges that Russia does not fully control developments on its southern borders. Massive migration, arms and drugs trafficking and smuggling and movements of terrorist groups continue. He is certain that joint action must be taken to address these issues in cooperation with partners in the anti-terrorist coalition, including CIS member-states.

A number of bilateral and multi-lateral documents were signed on cooperation in the struggle against terrorism, its financing, drugs trafficking and illegal arms trade.

Russia last year received heavy blows from international terrorismMay 9 in Kaspiisk, last October's hostage-taking at a theater in Moscow and the truck bomb attack on the Chechen government building in Grozny.

The geography of crimes was wide and casualties, appalling. The Russian leadership's response to such attacks in some cases met with misunderstanding in the West, but toward the end of last year there were signs of certain shifts in the world public mind.

This cost President Putin a great deal of patience, emotion and painstaking explanations - in some cases on the brink of diplomatic correctness. How much exactly, we shall never know.

Suffice it to recall his vigorous exchanges with the Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and the dramatic news conference in Brussels.

Russian journalists, too, did create problems for the Russian president. Putin's sole request to the Russian mass media community has invariably been the same. Taking a genuinely civic attitude and never put people's lives at risk, using terrorist attacks as shows in a bid to push up program ratings and dividends.

International terrorism is a global ill, a factor of world politics. Russian law enforcement agencies have to find new bearings. The president last year said Russia's armed forces must be targeted against international terrorism first and foremost, adding that the General Staff was working on amendments to the national security concept.

The armed forces' new tasks will require adequate financing, including that of allowances, and greater professionalism. It is not accidental that the contract service experiment has begun in the most mobile units capable of dealing with terrorist attacks. This applies primarily to the Pskov paratroops division and, as Putin announced recently, to the 42nd division stationed in Chechnya, which by the beginning of 2004 will shift to contract manning.

Contract servicemen will in the future form the backbone of the Interior Ministry Troops. The president instructed the Interior Ministry to begin this reform with the brigade stationed in Chechnya.

The Russian president last year empowered the Interior Ministry to coordinate the struggle against illicit drugs trafficking. The Interior Ministry has already formed a special committee. Putin directly linked drug abuse in Russia with arms trade, terrorism and illegal migration.

The Russian Interior Ministry's federal migration service set up under a presidential decree last year will establish strict control of migration processes.

Last year's measures to enhance state security and make people's lives safer were extensive, but the tide of war against crime has not turned yet. Opinion polls indicate that people are most concerned about security - personal security, security of their homes, streets and country. The people do not have a feeling of real protection yet.

Putin may well expect he will have to discuss this subject ever more frequently in the last year of his four-year presidency. Russia's public mind traditionally regards the president as the main safeguard, and it will hold him answerable.

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