First signs of unease over plight of refugees

MOSCOW Initial jingoism gives way to creeping doubts about the human cost of the conflict, but Putin continues to ride wave of popularity

AS EXHAUSTED and terrified refugees pour out of Chechnya, the attitude of the Russian media, hitherto wholly supportive of the military campaign, has begun to change.

Viktor Baranets, an army colonel turned journalist, says: "At the beginning there was a lot of 'hurrah-hurrah' patriotism but now the mass media has started to get more sober. They are asking if it is necessary to bomb everybody in Chechnya."

The changes are small but significant. The main television channels showed an elderly Chechen woman who died in the crush at Kavkaz checkpoint earlier in the week. "It reminded me of what the Germans did to us in the last war," said Valentine Gefter, executive director of the Institute of Human Rights.

In the past couple of days part of the press and television have begun to focus as much on the 200,000 Chechen refugees as the advances of the army. Col Baranets says others, such as Rossiskaya Gazeta and ORT television, "haven't changed their approach to the war. They keep saying "press on, don't stop halfway".

It is very different from the last Chechen war, in 1994-96. Then the media was more openly critical of the entire war effort. This time, press and television have been overwhelmingly supportive, reflecting the views of the "oligarchs" who own them, but it is also a measure of popular Russian backing for the war.

"Who can be against the war after the Chechen bombs in Moscow killed so many people?" said a woman, referring to the blowing up of working- class apartment blocks. "Anybody who came out against the war would be killed."

The politically sophisticated have no doubt the real impetus behind the war is the battle in Moscow to succeed President Boris Yeltsin. Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, has risen from nonentity to a contender for the presidency because he ordered the Chechnya invasion. Ksenefon Ippolitov, a retired KGB general, said: "The ... authorities are doing all this with one purpose in mind - to sway the electorate."

Even where the media is critical of the conduct of the war it is careful to avoid being too damning. This week NTV channel showed a Chechen hospital with child amputees, victims of Russian bombs or shells. It also showed the village of Achkoi Martain with bodies in the streets after a Russian air strike. But another NTV correspondent with the Russian army said a strike on a Red Cross convoy was fully justified.

Will the media's attitude change if the war goes on for a long time and Russian casualties mount? Probably, particularly if a paper or television channel is owned by an "oligarch" hostile to Mr Putin. But for the moment they are reluctant to run against the patriotic tide too early.

Government spokesmen are conducting "an information war" modelled on Nato's presentation of the campaign against Serbia. Chechen guerrillas are referred to as "bandits" or "terrorists" and are said to be receiving reinforcements from the Afghan Taliban, though no proof is produced.

Civilian casualties in villages and on roads are denied. Alternatively, the "terrorists" are hiding in refugee convoys. To get away with this, spokesmen require the Russian media not to mention stories from foreign news agency reporters at the scene, such as the missile attack on Grozny market.

For the moment the Russian army is still advancing. It may not be wholly truthful about its casualties but they are unlikely to be high. The problem with this approach,as the US found in Vietnam, is that disillusionment and shock are likely to be greater if Mr Putin fails to win a decisive victory.

Anatol Lieven

Review, page 5

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style