`Heroic' troops used in propaganda war

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The Independent Online
Moscow - After a five-week media promotion as disastrous as the military campaign on the ground in Chechnya, Russian authorities have launched a gory counter-attack in the country's first television war, writes Andrew Higgins.

Leading the assault is Alexander Nevzorov, a bellicose nationalist politician and former war correspondent sacked from a St Petersburg television station because of his far-right views and hostility to President Boris Yeltsin's reforms.

Ostankino television, the most tightly controlled of Russia's three main television stations, broadcast a gruesome 15-minute reportage by Mr Nevzorov at prime time on Wednesday. Until then, it had largely restricted its coverage of the war in Chechnya tostiff and barely plausible official communiques.

The film marks the first real attempt to present the war in Chechnya from the perspective of Russian soldiers on the ground, and respond to searing pictures aired daily abroad and in Russia of dead civilians, terrified children and bombed out apartment buildings.

Entitled Hell and shot with the co-operation of the Russian military, it shows troops under fire on the way to the presidential palace in central Grozny. Wounded soldiers lie writhing in the mud. Those still standing tell of their determination to fight on, while Mr Nevzorov spits contempt at politicians and journalists who oppose the war: "Every soldier and every battalion commander is cleverer than the entire State Duma," he says against the din of gunfire. "This is the front. This is Hell."

The Russian military has otherwise shown little interest in courting journalists. Unaccustomed to media attention, it has often responded to television crews and reporters by shooting at them. Mr Nevzorov's support for military attempts to conquer Chechnya is absolute. Over stirring music, he has a soldier explain his mission: "This is our land. We are here for Russia. My ancestors were Cossacks and set up this city. It is our land. If necessary we will die here."

Mr Nevzorov lambasts nattering politicians and laments defence cuts which he says have left the army under-staffed and ill-prepared.

The politician, elected last December to the State Duma, told Moscow News his reporting trip had been backed by Mr Yeltsin's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, and deputy prime minister, Sergei Shakhrai.

Mr Nevzorov's film ends with a rousing tribute to Russian troops and Russia's destiny: "In this war here, in this fire and blood, something is being reborn, something which has always reverberated down the ages. This is the character of Russia. Its grea t ness is being reborn again."