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NTV chief news editor, Vladimir Kulistikov
"We will not keep silent about the losses"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 22:17 GMT
Analysis: Media swings against military

wounded Russian soldier Russian setbacks are increasingly being reported by the Moscow media


By regional analyst Stephen Mulvey

The Russian media's support for the military operation in Chechnya has shown signs of cracking in recent days, as startling rebel counter-attacks stall the advance of Russian forces.

Battle for the Caucasus
The most loyal pro-government media are still putting the bravest possible face on events, but others are now suggesting that Russian troops are struggling and are casting doubt on official military briefings.

The Russian media is now divided on the war in Chechnya. Depending which television station you watch, or which paper you read, Russian forces are either continuing their steady destruction of Chechen rebels, or getting increasingly bogged down.

A handful of journalists raised sceptical voices from the start of the campaign, but their number has sharply increased since the New Year, when Russian forces began struggling to make headway in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Grieving mothers

The lead has been taken by outlets owned by the anti-Kremlin media baron, Vladimir Gusinsky, including Russia's largest commercial television channel, NTV.

They have reported on Russian setbacks on the battlefield, and the grief of mothers whose sons have died, while allowing officers on the ground to contradict the positive message emanating from their commanders.

One piece of footage, broadcast by NTV this week, included scenes of Russians and Chechens swapping their dead in Grozny.

And while the commercial station emphasised the seriousness of the latest Chechen counter-attacks, state television broadcast comments by the defence minister that the rebels had been repelled.

But it's not only anti-Kremlin media that have begun to raise the prospect of another Russian failure in Chechnya. The politically non-partisan Izvestiya newspaper has published scathing criticism of Russian military strategy, and some outlets controlled by the pro-Kremlin tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, have also joined in the attack.

On Tuesday Izvestiya published two articles on Chechnya, one of which focused on the plight of a special-purpose police unit in Chechnya.

"We aren't the army, we are the police," said the unit's deputy commander.

"We have not been trained to fight out in the open, and to storm high ground. But now we are learning ... at the cost of our own blood."

Media scorn

Meanwhile, Boris Berezovsky's Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that for the first time the new war had begun to resemble the events of 1994-96 when Russia suffered a "crushing defeat".

It poured scorn on the authorities' earlier claims to have driven rebels out of the occupied towns and into the mountains.

While Moscow's ability to manage news coverage of the war appears to be slipping, the Chechen public relations machine is becoming more effective.

The Russian-language Chechen website, kavkaz.org, is issuing more frequent bulletins and Chechen war reports are now increasingly being picked up by the Russian news agency Interfax.

It is too early to guess how these developments will affect acting-President Vladimir Putin's chances of election to the Kremlin in March.

Russia's mood is different now than during the last Chechen war of the mid-1990s, when the conflict became deeply unpopular.

Last year's trouble in Dagestan and the apartment-block bombings in Moscow and elsewhere, have persuaded many Russians that Chechen warlords must be contained at any cost.

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See also:
11 Jan 00 |  Europe
Chechens 'break Grozny siege'
08 Jan 00 |  Media reports
Russia media criticise Chechen campaign
10 Jan 00 |  Europe
Can Russia win the Chechen war?
24 Oct 99 |  Europe
The first bloody battle for Grozny
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
09 Jan 00 |  Europe
Chechen rebels hit back
07 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russians hold their fire
07 Jan 00 |  Europe
Refugees return to Chechnya
06 Jan 00 |  Europe
Russian army battered in Grozny

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