President Vladimir Putin's move to enhance his power in response to a wave of terrorism does not take on the real problem: the corrupt and unreformed security services that produced Putin in the first place, according to many politicians and analysts.
Putin, a former KGB officer who later headed its domestic successor, the Federal Security Service, had been planning to centralize more political authority for months and took advantage of the school seizure in Beslan to unveil the decision, according to his advisers. But he did not remove security officials who have failed to foil repeated terrorist strikes in the last few years.
The performance of the security services in Beslan, where at least 338 children and adults died this month, has drawn intense criticism from veterans of the military and law enforcement agencies. The terrorists who took over the Beslan school and demanded an end to the war in Chechnya were reportedly aided by a police officer. By official accounts, the security services responding to the standoff were hobbled by disorganization, miscommunication and poor preparation.
"Looking back on the Beslan experience, we learned our lessons," retired Gen. Arkady Baskayev said. "There was no unified professional management of this operation."
Baskayev, who commanded the military garrison in Grozny during the first war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996, noted that the government promised to reform the security agencies after the Moscow theater siege in 2002, but with no results. "Unfortunately, nothing has been done yet," he said in an interview. "If nothing is going to be done, we'll simply see such significant consequences that even Beslan will seem like a small tragedy."
Instead of focusing on the security agencies, Putin decided to rein in other democratically elected leaders. He proposed eliminating the popular election of governors and independent members of parliament, giving himself the power to appoint leaders of Russia's 89 regions. He also proposed that political parties such as his United Russia have the right to determine parliamentary slates.
The moves alarmed many in Russia and abroad who saw them as an unraveling of democratic institutions adopted in the post-Soviet era. Many U.S. officials, as well as the original author of Russia's glasnost reforms, Mikhail Gorbachev, called Putin's plan a major step backward.
"What counts most is that this will undoubtedly limit people's rights," Gorbachev, who has been largely supportive of Putin, told the Interfax news agency. "This may become another step toward stripping citizens of their voting rights."
One figure who remained quiet was former president Boris Yeltsin, who brought an end to the Soviet Union and ushered in such reforms as the election of governors. Many analysts and politicians believe he cut a deal when he retired, in which Putin agreed to shield Yeltsin and his family from prosecution on corruption charges in exchange for the former leader's obeisance.
Business mogul Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider who helped propel Putin to power in 1999 and later turned against him, challenged Yeltsin to break his silence.
"You've kept your mouth shut for an unforgivably long time," Berezovsky, who now lives in exile in London, wrote in a letter published in his newspaper, Kommersant. "It's hard to believe now that once upon a time you climbed atop a tank to defend the future of Russia. And lately, your silence has been particularly, defiantly unforgivable."
But most of the Russian political world acceded to Putin's proposals, praising them. "Regional leaders hail Putin's latest moves as panacea for all Russia's ills," read the headline on a dispatch from the Russian Tass news agency.
The focus on Putin's political power obscured the failure of the security apparatus. The services remain notoriously corrupt and individual officers are susceptible to bribes. Meanwhile, the agencies have failed to stem a tide of terrorism that has killed more than 1,000 people over two years. According to polls, most Russians fault security agencies for the deaths in Beslan and want the services overhauled. Putin instead announced Tuesday that he planned to invest another $5.4 billion in law enforcement agencies and the military.
Putin's personnel shuffles have involved local police and security officials in the Beslan region and the replacement of his presidential envoy in the southern region, Vladimir Yakovlev, with a trusted lieutenant, Dmitri Kozak.
Many critics say they think Putin should fire top security officials, particularly Nikolai Patrushev, the director of the Federal Security Service.
"Nobody took responsibility for the catastrophe," Sergei Glazyev, a former Communist and former presidential candidate, said in an interview. "They didn't lose their jobs. They weren't punished."
"I don't know who was held responsible for allowing all the previous terrorist acts to happen, and who will answer for Beslan," Valery Zubov, a former governor in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, said on Echo Moskvy radio. If no one was held responsible, Zubov wondered what would happen in future cases that were similar.
Igor Morozov, a member of parliament and former security service officer, said Patrushev and several cabinet ministers should resign. "Huge changes should be made, because the situation in Beslan showed us that, for today, the special services are in a weak state for gathering information about terrorist acts," Morozov said by telephone.
But the security services historically have been resistant to change and command a powerful constituency in Moscow. "I don't think we need reforms," said Viktor Voitenko, deputy head of a legislative security committee. The problem with the security services, he said, is that they are not powerful enough. "They should have more power to fight terrorists . . . We should act in a tougher way."