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Saturday, 26 October, 2002, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Russian press debate Moscow's 9/11

Going to press before Russian special forces stormed a Moscow theatre, the capital's Saturday newspapers are dominated by the hostage crisis. One newspaper described it as Moscow's 11 September.

One daily wants to know how so many heavily-armed Chechens could move round Moscow without being spotted.

Another paper takes exception to the pontificating of some of the country's politicians.

Moscow's 9/11

"This is our 11 September," is how the prominent broadsheet Izvestiya describes the crisis.


Chechens are citizens of Russia just like us

Moskovskiy Komsomolets

"The amazement in Moscow that the fighting could move so fast from Chechnya to here," it adds, "is similar to the shock that the naive Americans felt a year ago, after thinking that war was something distant and removed from them."

"Blasphemous as this may sound, hundreds of thousands of people in dozens of Russian towns and villages yesterday thanked Almighty God," the daily says, "that Moscow can now see with its own eyes the war that has long been waged not in Chechnya but across Russia."

Moving to Moscow

"How did they get into Moscow?", asks the popular tabloid Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

"By train, plane, car, anyway you like," is its answer.

"Chechens are citizens of Russia just like us," it adds, "and are entitled to move about the country without hindrance" except for those on the wanted list whose photographs adorn airports, railway and police stations.

But even then, "terrorists are skilled at changing their external appearance".

Regular document checks make air and rail travel risky, Moskovskiy Komsomolets explains. The hostage-takers must have travelled by road, it believes.

It quotes a Moscow police source as saying that "a Ford Excursion off-roader and a Chevy Express Cargo Van minibus rolled up to the venue of the atrocity together, packed with armed bandits."

"It beggars belief that traffic police didn't notice them," the paper exclaims.

"We can't pull over flashy motors just like that - they often have important people inside," it quotes a senior Moscow traffic officer as saying.

Traffic policemen's right to stop drivers just to check their papers was abolished in 1998 except in cases of security alerts, the newspaper explains.

"Unfortunately, on the day the hostages were taken there were no such alerts in place," it says.

Moskovskiy Komsomolets points out that could not spot the vehicles because "virtually all US-made cars of this type have black-tinted windows."

Disgrace

The government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta wonders how the large Chechen expatriate community across Russia views the siege.

Many of them have been helping the authorities maintain contact with the hostage-takers, it adds.


There's an interesting list of politicians who have offered to help negotiate with the terrorists.

Komsomolskaya Pravda
Chechens are "angry and shocked", the newspaper says, quoting a former senior member of the republic's Soviet-era government.

While the hostage-takers "have been told they will become national heroes," the paper says, "they are, in fact, damned by the Chechen people because they have done something only an enemy does - disgrace the nation."

Political circus

The popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda notes the rush of politicians who came to the scene to "help", and wonders whose interests they have on their minds.

"There's an interesting list of politicians who offered to help negotiate with the terrorists," it writes.

For an unknown reason, it adds, the hostage-takers chose to talk to right-wingers, communists and maverick nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskiy.

The same right-wingers went into the building and came out with some freed hostages.

"And that says it all," says Komsomolskaya Pravda.

"There's an amazing abundance of political and near-political figures," the paper says, "who have rushed to get their faces on the telly and treat us to their long-winded opinions."

While "the vast majority clearly have nothing of value to say about the subject," the daily laments, "they took their time saying it!"

At one point the hostage-takers suggested swapping some of their captives for deputies. Only two politicians came forward.

"The rest were probably standing in line for the TV cameras," Komsomolskaya Pravda notes.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin spoke out just once about the crisis, during a Kremlin conference.

"Maybe that's for the better," says the paper. "At least someone's not just talking, but doing something."

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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