Eugene B. Rumer ["Not Another Soviet Union," op-ed, Sept. 24] was misleading on the nature of Russian President Vladimir Putin's political system. A soft authoritarian regime, such as that of Boris Yeltsin, remains open to democratic transformation. As Georgia's "rose revolution" showed last November, a soft authoritarian regime such as Eduard Shevardnadze's can mutate into an imperfect democracy.

Mr. Putin, however, is cementing the building blocks of a hard dictatorship with the abolition of locally elected governors and parliament members. This eliminates the local strength of genuine democratic parties and the Communists.

Freedom of information is also crucial to democracy, but only vestiges of that survive in Russia, mostly for the elite -- the Internet (which is monitored), three or four newspapers and magazines (which are too expensive for most Russians), and the more academic parts of publishing.

Mr. Putin, in his speech reacting to the recent horrors at the Beslan school, echoed two famous speeches of Russian politicians -- Vladimir Lenin in 1918 and Joseph Stalin in 1931. For him, evidently, the image of a strong state remains the Soviet state. Some important elements of it, such as the ideology, are gone, but others remain, particularly the totalitarian state's cynical indifference to morality.

As in Soviet times, that indifference allows political murders: the Chechen disappearances, the bombing of Grozny and the killing of Yuri Shchekochikin.

CHARLES H. FAIRBANKS JR.

Director

Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

Johns Hopkins University

Washington