Chechnya Conflict and Increased Recentralization of Power
In the wake of the unsolved conflict in Chechnya, the capital Moscow was repeatedly shaken by serious terrorist attacks. The armed attack by Chechen rebels on a musical theater and the hostage-taking (October 23–26, 2002) of over 800 people were violently ended by Russian special forces (according to Russian information, deaths of around 50 hostage-takers and 120 hostages, the latter of which were almost all victims of one of the Storming the theater were used). Subsequently, Russia increased its military pressure on the guerrillas in Chechnya (initiation of new “purges”); In addition, the government announced a new national security plan in the face of a growing “terrorist threat to Russia”. In a controversial referendum in Chechnya on 23.3. 2003 a majority for reintegration into the Russian Federation. In July / August 2003 there were again serious terrorist attacks on a Moscow rock festival and on a military hospital in Mozdok with numerous dead and injured, in December 2003 a victim bomb attack was directed against a train in southern Russia on the border with Chechnya, and another suicide attack rocked the center of Moscow in the same month, on February 6, 2004, at least 39 people died in an attack on the metro. Attacks attributed to Chechen rebels, among others. on facilities of the security forces and on the Ministry of the Interior in the Republic of Ingushetia were on 22./23. 6. More than 90 people killed in 2004 (including the Ingush Minister of the Interior).
The power struggle between the oligarchs and the government Putin reached with the affair of the oil company Yukos (2003-05) a new high point: the end of October 2003, the group’s chief on charges of tax evasion and breach of trust Mikhail Khodorkovsky (* 1963) arrested, who then by the Top management resigned and was sentenced to several years’ imprisonment in a camp in 2005; At the end of June 2004, the group was legally obliged to make a back tax payment in the billions, which brought Yukos to the brink of bankruptcy and ended with a foreclosure sale of large parts of the company at the end of 2004 and their takeover by the (state-owned) energy company Gazprom in 2005.
In the elections to the State Duma on December 7, 2003, the »United Russia« party, which is close to President Putin, became the strongest force (37.1% of the vote, but 104 of the 225 direct electoral districts and 120 of the 225 places on the list), while the Communists (KPRF) lost almost half of the 1999 votes with 12.7%. After the dismissal of Kasyanov’s cabinet on February 24, 2004, who was one of the last representatives of the Yeltsin era in government headquarters, on March 5, 2004, on Putin’s suggestion, the largely unknown M. E. Fradkov was surprisingly killed elected Prime Minister by the State Duma; the new, significantly reduced cabinet presented on March 9 (reduction of the ministries from 30 to 17) had as the most important revision the replacement of I. S. Ivanov in the office of foreign minister by the diplomat S. Lavrov. In the presidential elections on March 14, 2004, incumbent Putin was, as expected, confirmed with 71.2% of the vote.
On September 3, 2004, the violent end to a mass hostage-taking in the school of Beslan (North Ossetia republic) – to which the group around the Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev (* 1965) claimed responsibility – claimed around 350 deaths (mainly children and young people). President Putin took the new terrorist act on September 13, 2004 as an opportunity to announce drastic domestic political measures (transition to proportional representation; no direct election of the regional executive, but de facto appointment of provincial governors on the proposal of the state president) and the powers of the security forces and v. a. to further expand the secret services. In October 2005, an attack by Islamist rebels repulsed by Russian security forces was directed against the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, Nalchik.
Not least as a result of the unrest-accompanied changes in power in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan between 2003 and 2005, the authoritarian features of the Putin government’s policies intensified. At the end of 2005, an internationally criticized law for stronger control of Russian non-governmental organizations and foreign foundations was introduced. On October 7, 2006, the Kremlin-critical journalist Anna Politkowskaja (* 1958) was assassinated in Moscow. Politkovskaya was one of the few Russian journalists to report on the situation in Chechnya.
In the run-up to the parliamentary (December 2007) and presidential elections (March 2008), protests against Putin’s policies intensified; Demonstrations in Moscow and Saint Petersburg were forcibly broken up in April 2007 by the deployment of special police forces (Omon). The former world chess champion G. Kasparov was initially nominated for the presidential elections as the top candidate of the opposition movement “Other Russia”. The movement called for protest marches and rallies several times in 2007, which in November 2007 even led to Kasparov’s imprisonment for five days. On December 13, 2007, Kasparov gave up his presidential candidacy on the grounds that he was being hindered by the authorities.
In September 2007 Prime Minister Fradkov was replaced in office by Viktor A. Subkow (* 1941). In the elections to the State Duma on December 2, 2007, the “United Russia” party, led by Putin as a (“non-party”) top candidate, received 64.3% of the vote and secured a two-thirds majority in parliament with 315 seats. The second strongest force was the KPRF with 11.6% (57 seats), followed by Schirinowskis LDPR with 8.1% (40 seats) and »Just Russia« 7.7% (38 seats). However, representatives of various non-governmental organizations and foreign observers criticized a number of legal violations during the elections. On December 10, 2007, “United Russia” and three other parties, with the express support of Putin,suggested Dmitri Medvedev, Vice Prime Minister and Gazprom Supervisory Board chairman, as a presidential candidate for the 2008 elections, making him a clear favorite. Medvedev, in turn, asked Putin if he were to win the election to take over the office of the Prime Minister and thus resorted to the offer previously made by him to remain available for another top office even after the end of his term of office (limited by the constitution) as head of state.
As expected, Medvedev emerged victorious from the presidential election on March 2, 2008. With a turnout of almost 70%, he won 70.2% of the votes as Putin’s preferred candidate. With this result, the future political leadership duo was clear:Medvedev as president and Putin as head of government. Medvedev was sworn in as President on May 7, 2008 and proposed Putin as Prime Minister on the same day. His election on May 8, 2008 was purely a matter of form: 392 members of the Russian parliament voted for and 56 against him. Putin had previously been elected chairman of the ruling party “United Russia” (on April 15, 2008) to strengthen his position.