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
Friday 05 November 1999
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.
Review, page 5
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
General Election 2015: David Cameron catching up in polls – but he badly needs a clear lead
Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
South Africa xenophobic attacks: Shops looted and violence on streets of Johannesburg as foreigners are forced to hide in police stations
18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...