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Saturday, 8 January, 2000, 12:55 GMT
Russia media criticise Chechen campaign

Russian soldier Russian soldiers are facing tough winter conditions




As Russian progress slows and casualties mount in the Chechen campaign, various Russia media outlets have stepped up criticism of the war, and begun to give more coverage to pro-Chechen figures and critical voices within Russia.

Sources from the Media-Most empire which backs Kremlin opponent Yuriy Luzhkov have always been more qualified in their support for the war than the official media, but they now appear to be openly challenging the official line of the Russian military.

Segodnya newspaper on 5 January quoted an army captain just returned from the fighting in the capital Grozny whose name was not given "for understandable reasons". He said that despite official optimism the army had unofficially accepted the impasse in Grozny.

"They let us enter the city and get bogged down," he said. "And now our losses, which have been large anyway - the official reports are a bluff - will mount with every passing day."

Soldiers' rights

Official casualty figures were challenged by the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, whose representative Valentina Melnikova told Ekho Moskvy radio on 4 January that at least 1,000 men had been killed compared with the official figure of 300, with official informatrion slow to appear.

Russian soldiers Many troops in Chechnya are conscripts
"The lack of information is simply dreadful," she said.

"The boys are writing letters, but their letters don't arrive. This is the same dreadful pattern as in Karabakh and in the first [Chechen] war, when soldiers' letters were destroyed."

International law had been violated, Ms Melnikova added, with 18-20-year-old conscripts sent to Chechnya against their will.

"Why do we say they have been drawn into this against their wishes?" she asked.

"Unfortunately, in October, President Yeltsin deprived these lads of the right voluntarily to participate or not to participate in combat operations during peacetime - when a state of emergency or martial law has not been declared. The October decree withdrew this right and ... it now depends on commanders whether they send a soldier to a combat zone or not."

She said that up to 75,000 conscripts could be serving in Chechnya, making up half the Russian military strength there.

Poor communications

Ekho Moskvy broadcast an interview with pro-Moscow Chechen leader Malik Saydullayev on 5 January, who was highly critical of the army's communication skills.

Russian soldier A young Russian soldier is confronted with the body of a dead comrade


"The troops are advancing, no talks with anyone are initiated, and certain actions stemming from the poor professional skills of the people in uniforms give the [rebel] armed groups additional chances of finding new recruits," he said.

"If only they listened to people, talked to people and did everything directly with the people!"

In a report on 5 January, the radio said that information from the Russian military had been reduced to a "minimum", and proceeded to quote Chechen leader Movladi Udugov, who now gets regular coverage on the station as he did with regular dispatches in the previous Chechen conflict.

Crumbling support

Other media sources previously loyal in the campaign have begun to break ranks.

The independent daily Izvestiya said on 6 January that official claims of victory in central areas of Chechnya were false and accused the military of "wishful thinking".

The newspaper added that rebels were just beginning their counter-offensive, and feared an operation similar to Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev's raid on the southern Russian town of Budennovsk during the first Chechen conflict in 1995.

"The cornered gunmen are starting to move on to counter-offensive operations and the action in the south-western suburbs of Grozny is in all probability only the beginning," the newspaper said.

"In the opinion of military specialists, what is most to be feared is a repeat of an operation on the lines of the Basayev detachment's capture of Budennovsk."

Heroes to zeros

Even Kommersant newspaper, owned by Kremlin ally Boris Berezovskiy, was critical, warning acting President Vladimir Putin that a long war could damage his political standing.

"The troops have got bogged down in Grozny and the republic's foothills," it said on 5 January.

"Now, every day of the war is bringing more and more casualties. The experience of the past Chechen campaign shows that people quickly become tired of war, while its initiators turn from heroes into political zeros."

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), 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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