Monitor: Catastrophe in Chechnya

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Russian analysis of the Kremlin's invasion

of the republic of Chechnya


THE DEEPER the troops are introduced into Chechnya, the clearer the wish of the federal authorities to restore a system of state organs on its territory with the minimum participation of Chechens becomes. Cossacks are made heads of district and village administration as well as Russian officials. This tactic caused negative reaction even with the representatives of the half-puppet State Soviet of Chechnya. Chechens are not asked their opinion, they are just informed about their new administration, and that is all.



THE KREMLIN seems concerned about the Western attitude to the war ,and has recommended that its generals get ready for possible talks. Would military actions be stopped and international representatives let inside Chechnya, so that the 1996 story might be repeated? Anatoly Kvashnin unexpectedly refused. His position was tough: not a step backwards. He got in touch with Yeltsin personally and said he was ready to resign if the initiatives were realised. Nobody expected it from Kvashnin. Yeltsin had to face army opposition, and it was a blow for him. So the Kremlin had to pretend that this was a private initiative by Kremlin officials, and had nothing to do with the official position. The problem is not necessarily over, and may rear its head again. Yeltsin doesn't want to be in conflict with the generals, but he will use any chance to punish them. The generals once again can see that the authorities do not care much about the interests of the country. The Kremlin doesn't understand a man with a gun and fears him. Now this fear will grow.


THE 20TH century is coming to its end. It has been an unlucky century for Russia, and the TV screen helps the nation to set itself free from its past. Every war this century has been a disaster for us: from 1905 to the First World War, from the civil war where we fought against ourselves to the war against Finland where 10 Red Army soldiers were killed or wounded for every Finnish soldier. The Great Patriotic War, in which we "flooded the enemy with our blood and buried him with our bones", was a heavy blow to the public consciousness. It undermined the economy and influenced public opinion in its attitude to Afghanistan and the first Chechen war. Now everything is changed. People feel that the very existence of the state is at stake, and their fear materialises in the image of a bearded murderer of sleeping people. The war became part of the election campaign: a victory means the end of the Otechestvo bloc, a defeat will undermine the position of the government candidate. War coverage might change our future: the way a citizen sees the war might be reflected in the results of future voting. Ordinary people want our army to triumph - it will help them regain their self-respect. TV supports this: journalists have their own patriotic feelings that coincide with the interests of the owners. The problem is that the outcome can be unpredictable. A popular war is easy to wage but difficult to stop. Hatred for the enemy makes a nation blind.



FEDERAL FORCES inform of our losses through the press centre, but ordinary Russians who remember 1994-96 do not trust official information. Only once you've been with the troops and spoken to the soldiers can you understand that they may be right. Soldiers are confused as to why the army has to be a political instrument. Young soldiers ask why it is that Russia has to justify to other countries its aspirations to get rid of terrorism.

Obshchaya Gazeta

ILLUSIONS OF an independent press have disappeared against the sounds of explosions. And the boldness of the soldiers who are learning the art of PR makes one think that we may be drifting in the direction of a junta. If media reports of the two [Chechen] wars are compared, there is a striking difference. Coverage of first meant bloodshed and anti-war curses; this time the media carefully and technically retell military information and abstract figures of refugees, offering no prognosis for the future. Any doubts as to the Russian army's capacity to liquidate all the Chechen terrorists are prohibited by a strict self-censorship. In a moment of danger, the mass media is defending itself. Chechnya's metamorphosis - from symbol of independence to symbol of bloodshed - can happen to the Russian media as well, though they still consider themselves to be the "basis of democracy".