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Congressman Says U.S. Needs to Be 'Consistent Partner' to Russia

Washington, D.C., Oct. 7, 2004 — U. S. Representative Curt Weldon, the first American official to visit the scene of last month's terrorist siege of a Beslan school, said he had "concerns about some of the actions by President Putin." But, he added, "I vehemently disagree with those in this country who are today advocating that we push away from Russia. My opinion is we should be renewing a strong relationship with Russia to become a more consistent partner of the Russian people and then have the leverage to be able to sit side-by-side with Putin and have that credibility to say 'Why are you doing this?'"

Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania, made the remarks during a panel discussion at the Voice of America today hosted by VOA's Russian Service. Panelist Nikolai Zlobin, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Defense Information, criticized the Russian government for censoring the media and of Putin's announced changes. "Something is wrong," he said, "when a U.S. Congressman knows more about what happened there than an ordinary Russian."

Another panelist, David Satter, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, said Putin's reforms were not a result of Beslan, but were a "directed effort to expand the power of an already top-heavy presidential administration." According to Satter, "The measures that were announced by Putin and were described as anti-terrorist measures were in fact planned long before Beslan."

Nikolas Gvosdev, Senior Fellow at The Nixon Center, cautioned that Putin's proposal to take control over the appointment of regional leaders would lead to future problems because Russia "does not have effective political parties that act as transmission belts for the rising generation." According to Gvosdev, "The problem with having the presidential administration vet every key leadership found in Russia is it's very easy to tell the leader what he wants to hear . . . it eliminates an important check and balance against corruption."

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 100 million people. Programs are produced in 44 languages, including English and Russian.

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