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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 10:55 GMT
Russian press views Grozny endgame

Russian soldiers Papers expect the assault on Grozny to be over within days


With Russian forces now reported to be in control of a considerable part of Grozny, most newspapers in Moscow are in agreement on at least one point: the military operation in the Chechen capital will be largely over within a few days.

In its 20 January edition, the Defence Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda paints a distinctly upbeat picture of Russian military successes in Grozny and the rest of Chechnya.
Battle for the Caucasus

Repeating the official formula that "the special operation to purge Grozny of terrorists" has "entered the decisive stage", the paper says the Russian forces' "resolute actions" has resulted in the rebels being split up.

"The troops have now reached the enemy's key pockets of resistance and occupied a number of tactically important sites. The scattered groups of bandits are sustaining losses. Many rebels have abandoned their weapons and are either giving themselves up or trying to flee," the paper reports.


Chechen rebels in Grozny Chechen rebels prepare a machine gun

It is at pains to stress that what is happening in Grozny is "not a storming in the usual sense of the word: with active artillery and air support, small mobile units are making slow but steady progress along their three designated routes".

"It very much looks as if the days of the bandit detachments entrenched in Grozny are numbered," the paper concludes.

Other papers take a more sceptical line.

Noting that the Russian military do not say the word "storming" aloud, the moderate Segodnya says there is no other way to describe the developments in Grozny.



There is a chance that there will be virtually no-one left to liberate
Nezavisimaya Gazeta

"The tactics of the military operation, which the federal command has recently said it is changing, look more and more like 'scorched earth tactics'," the paper comments.

"It is too early to speak of victory... but nearly all senior officials at the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry maintain that "the operation in Grozny 'would be completed in three day's time'," it adds.

Under the headline "Fighting in Grozny enters decisive stage", Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which is owned by oil and media tycoon Boris Berezovsky, argues that there was no real point in occupying the Chechen capital.

The city has no strategic value, the paper says, and its industry, destroyed in two wars, is unlikely ever to be rebuilt.


grozny residents Some ask whether the city is worth fighting for

"And yet in the very near future the Russian flag will be hoisted over Grozny - at any cost. In reality, there is not a single more or less decent building left in the city that could be decorated with the tricolour," the paper says.

It points out that there are still a large number of civilians left in the city and yet, "however competently the federal forces are fighting, in a fierce combat there is a chance that there will be virtually no-one left to liberate," it warns.

"The main force driving the command seems to be their desire to report the completion of the military operation - and this cannot be done until Grozny is taken."

Another paper critical of at least some aspects of Russia's Chechen campaign is Novaya Gazeta.

It published two photographs - "taken in secret" - of Russian servicemen killed in Chechnya and questioned the official line on the number of casualties among the Russian forces.


russian wounded The total number of Russian casualties is questioned

The paper's main complaint is that no figures of total Russian losses in the campaign have yet been made public.

"Keeping secret the names of the dead means betraying them," it says.

In at least one Russian newspaper, signs of war fatigue seem to be setting in.

The leading daily Izvestiya, owned by Vladimir Potanin's Oneksimbank, confines its coverage of the war in its 20 January edition to two short agency reports in its 'In Brief' column.

'Unprecedented intensity'

By contrast, the mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda, also owned by Oneksimbank, is somewhat more generous: several war-related items feature on its pages, including a report headlined "Will Grozny fall soon?"

The paper says fighting in Grozny proceeds "with an intensity unprecedented in this war", with the Russian forces advancing to within a mile of the city centre.

The paper reports that the Russian troops "are now saying more and more often - though still cautiously - that Grozny will fall within days. But no-one gives a specific date."

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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See also:
20 Jan 00 |  Europe
Grozny rebels put up stiff resistance
18 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Russians learn from past mistakes
10 Jan 00 |  Europe
Can Russia win the Chechen war?

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