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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin's 3 Bills Get Easy Ride in Duma

The State Duma gave overwhelming approval Wednesday to President Vladimir Putin's plan to strengthen the central government at the expense of the regional governors. But major political maneuvering is still expected as amendments to the three bills are drafted before they come up for a second reading in late June.

Wednesday was the first reading of the bills proposed by Putin earlier this month. One would change the composition of the Federation Council, parliament's upper chamber, by replacing the governors and speakers of local legislatures with their appointees, who would work in Moscow on a permanent basis. The second permits the president to dismiss elected regional leaders if a court rules that their actions violate federal law. The third gives governors a similar right to fire local elected officials.

More than 300 of the roughly 450 deputies voted for all three bills. Deputies across the political spectrum spoke in favor of the measures, welcoming them largely as necessary to establish law and order in the vast country.

But regional elites, who have been largely quiet on the issue, are likely to muster some resistance. This may put them on the same side as liberals who have criticized what they see as Putin's authoritarian tendencies.

The Duma on Wednesday voted down an alternative bill drafted by liberal Yabloko Deputy Yelena Mizulina, which called for Federation Council deputies to be directly elected in the regions.

Boris Berezovsky, who holds a seat in the Duma, emerged as a sole crusader against the plan, warning of a "colossal catastrophe" that could destroy the country's democratic achievements. "One cannot usurp power with our help," Berezovsky said in his first appearence on the Duma's podium. "It [should be] the decision of the people, a referendum."

Putin continued to expand on his plans to reduce the role of the regions. Speaking in Yaroslavl, he entertained the idea of making a region's representation in the Federation Council commensurate with its contribution to the federal budget. "It makes some sense, both politically and economically," Putin was reported as saying Wednesday.

While hailing the support for his proposals, Putin said he still expects some resistance.

"When someone is at the federal level and he is offered to move away from it, different feelings emerge," Interfax reported him as saying. But governors "know how to subjugate their personal interests to the interests of the state," he said.

Several deputies said the next phase in the Duma's consideration of the three bills will be much more complicated.

Oleg Morozov, leader of the Russia's Regions group, said that some aspects of Putin's plan conflict with the Constitution. "The number of amendments in the second reading will be very large," Morozov said in televised comments, predicting major bargaining.

"I am convinced the struggle will be very serious," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said. Appearing Wednesday on NTV television's "Geroi Dnya" show, Zyuganov criticized the governors for their limited reaction to Putin's proposals and urged the Federation Council to assume a more active role in determining its own future.

Yevgeny Primakov of the Fatherland faction said that consitutional amendments would be necessary to accomodate Putin's plan.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama research center and an expert on the parliament, said that the bill allowing governors to fire local elected officials may face the strongest opposition from the liberal flank of the Duma. But on all three bills, compromise is possible only where the Kremlin is ready to give, he said.

"The presidential administration is master in the Duma, and if it has a principal position on something, it will get it passed," Pribylovsky said in an interview.