Friday, September 03, 2004

The View From Over Here


The bloody end to the siege in North Ossetia was depressingly predictable. This afternoon I've mostly been watching the remarkable live coverage on Sky News and it's been interesting to compare that with the more censored images Russians have been seeing. Only one of the local channels (NTV) has had live coverage all day and all TV stations have shied away from using the shots of the heaviest exchanges of fire and the most gory pictures of victims. Often the Russian news coverage consisted of a still picture of a map with a reporter commentating from the scene and one channel (Rossia) switched away from the firing as it reached its height and resumed its normal programming. Apparently the radio news is much freer here, and the Russians who want to know what's really going on prefer that to the local TV.

President Putin's going to be addressing the country later on. Don't ask me what he's going to say because it'll all be in Russian but it seems he's going to re-emphasise his tough policy on the Chechen problem. I'm sure he'll survive this crisis but how much he personally will be damaged by it depends much on how the storming came about. Various reports suggest the terrorists began firing on hostages as they tried to make a run for it and/or one of the terrorists may have accidentally set off a suicide bomb. That - coupled with the Kremlin's early insistence that many of the terrorists were not Chechens but "Arabs" - will help Putin politically both here and around the world. There's no doubt the Russian forces on the ground were caught by surprise so perhaps senior officials in the Defence Ministry may be made to take the blame for the chaos at the school, rather than Putin and others closer to him.

There's some concern we haven't seen the last of the attacks. The suicide bomber from the metro station attack here has been identified as the sister of one of the suspects in the plane bombings from last week. The two shared a flat in Grozny with a third woman being blamed for the other plane attack and a fourth who is presumed to be still on the loose. This weekend's City Day celebrations here have been cancelled in case she or anyone else had planned to target them.

One of the papers here has apparently said Chechens have taken "145 million hostages" across Russia - ie, the whole population. I doubt the public mood is quite like that and as I travel east from tomorrow it'll be interesting to see if attacks in Moscow and the Caucasus have much impact on the rest of this huge country.


At 3 September 2004 at 18:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi mate,

Good to see you are still watching while on tour - I knew you couldn't keep away from Sky News. I'll pass on your criticisms on to your replacements. Have fun mate.



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