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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 10:16 GMT
Hijacking hardens Russian feelings
Russian soldier reviewing the ruins of President Aslan Maskhadov's home
Russians' sympathy for Chechens has hit a new low
By Steve Rosenberg in Moscow

It is nearly a year-and-a-half since Russian troops crossed into Chechnya, at the start of what Moscow described as an operation to eliminate criminals and bandits.

Only last week, in an interview with the BBC, Vladimir Putin criticized the West for failing to understand that, and repeated that the aim of Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya was to battle international terrorism.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov
President Maskhadov's spokesman has denied responsibility
Now the hijack of Vnukovo Airlines flight 2806 has provided the Kremlin with the perfect example.

More than 100 civilians were taken hostage on a passenger jet and all in the name, it would appear, of the Chechen cause.

A Chechen rebel spokesman has rejected any connection to the affair.

But the hijackers are reported to have demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, and that's enough to harden Russia's attitude to the conflict in the north Caucusus.

At Moscow's Vnukovo airport, many of the relatives and friends of those who were trapped on board the plane said any sympathy they may have had for the plight of the Chechen people had now disappeared.

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See also:

16 Jan 01 | Europe
Chechnya's cycle of devastation
29 Nov 00 | Europe
Eyewitness: Chechnya's bitter war
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