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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Press reacts to 'Russia's 11 September'
Russian press review
"Country held hostage", "War bursts into Moscow", "World war", scream the headlines in Russia.

At the time the papers went to press, the Chechen rebels had killed one hostage and were continuing to hold hundreds more.

A photograph on the front page of the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta shows the forlorn figure of a woman, her hands raised, emerging from the besieged theatre.

The paper believes that "We have witnessed a very serious military, political and economic strike against Russia". It warns that what awaits Russia is the psychological change the US experienced after 11 September.

A "moment of truth" for the Russian people is how the leading daily Izvestia describes the crisis.

The liberal daily Vremya Novostey argues that Russian federal authorities have been dealt "the most devastating blow in the entire history of 'the Chechen problem'".

The guerrillas have taken the war "not just into Russia but right into the capital, to within a few kilometres of the Kremlim".

Putin caught out

With the outcome of the crisis far from certain, the papers have begun pointing the finger of blame and many hold the Kremlin responsible.

"The Chechen fighters have taken hostage not only hundreds of theatre-goers, but also Putin's political career and the fate of his entire political course," says the tabloid Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

It compares the federal authorities to "ostriches in ties", and claims that in the past three years Chechnya has ceased to be a political priority for the Kremlin after Russian leaders tacitly wrote off the chances of a political settlement.

Commenting on the response to the crisis by President Putin and senior officials, heavyweight broadsheet Nezavisimaya Gazeta says the authorities should have acted "much earlier".

It says the terrorists "caught the entire Russian senior administration on the hop, including the leaders of the security and defence agencies. The authorities have been spending all their time taking extraordinary steps to regain the initiative."

The broadsheet Nezavisimaya Gazeta describes the crisis as a "bad dream" because the Putin administration "until today was seen by a majority of people in society as a strong and effective administration, marked by a 'firm hand' and a commitment to law and order".

It predicts there will have to be a rethink of the "whole strategy of Moscow's actions" in the Caucasus.

Deportation?

Opinions are divided on how to deal with the seemingly intractable Chechnya problem now.

Leading daily Izvestiya sums up what it sees as the stark choice facing President Putin.

"Does he want to be General de Gaulle, who gave up Algeria to save France? Or Stalin, who solved the nationalities question by means of deportation, of the Chechens among others - thus effectively delegating the Chechen problem to his successors in the Kremlin?"

The broadsheet Nezavisimya Gazeta argues negotiations should be given a chance.

"Of all the available options, only the idea of a political settlement remains untested."

The paper believes "all preceding attempts at conciliation were short-term shams and were undertaken by the authorities as a temporary concession for the sake of their higher-priority interests".

Tabloid Moskovskiy Komsomolets agrees, and says that "one needs to seek agreement with the enemies that one has" - however "unpleasant" the prospect.

But in the view of the business-oriented Kommersant there is no point in making "concessions to terrorists".

"For almost three years, from 1996 to 1999, Chechnya had virtual independence from Russia, but the terror did not end as a result."

War of civilisations

A number of papers place the latest events in Moscow in the context of the US-initiated "war on terror" and call for renewed international action.

To leading daily Izvestiya the hostage-takers are part of a "war of civilisations" and a "challenge to the whole of sane mankind".

It proclaims that from now on there is "only one type of geopolitics - the extermination of terrorists throughout the world".

Nezavisimaya Gazeta regards the crisis as "a logical and integral link in the chain of recent world events" stretching from New York to Indonesia and Israel.

And it calls on Russia to conclude an "immediate military-police-political alliance with the USA and Britain. Just as we did in 1941."

"It's the same situation: aggression and world war."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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