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DATE=2/9/2000 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=RUSSIA TAKES GROZNY NUMBER=6-11674 BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-3335 CONTENT= INTRO: Many American newspapers published a stunning photograph from Chechnya this week on their front pages. The picture, taken by (a Russian photographer, Dmitry Belyakov, for) the Associated Press, shows the utter destruction of the Chechen capital, Grozny. The photo, which portrays a terrible scene framed in artful proportions and dramatic atmosphere, has been described as a pastel from hell. The Russian military boasted that it finally captured Grozny after driving out the last remaining Chechen rebels, scattering them into the surrounding hills. But the photo showed better than any words could, the devastation of what was once a thriving Caucasus center. The picture was reminiscent of scenes from Dresden, Germany, after the allied bombing of World War Two. In several editorial columns, the U-S press is commenting on what The New York Times is calling Russia's "Empty Victory' in the breakaway province. We get a sampling now from ________ in today's U- S Opinion Roundup. TEXT: We begin our sampling in the Pacific Ocean, on the peaceful shores of Hawaii, where the Honolulu Star-Bulletin urges the West to press for a peace agreement. If not, the newspaper fears, the civil war will move into the Chechen countryside. VOICE: After five months of intense fighting, Russians hoisted their flag above the Chechen capital ... but the celebration hardly signifies the end of the civil war in the breakaway republic. Most of the rebels have fled to the mountains, much as they did four years ago before recapturing Grozny. However, Kremlin control of Grozny may reduce the Russian casualty rate and temporarily maintain political acceptability, which is what the war has been mostly about. Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin owes much of his popularity among voters to his tough support for troops in Chechnya when he was prime minister under Boris Yeltsin. His most serious potential challengers in next month's presidential elections have dropped out, making Putin a likely shoo-in for president. However, a recent increase in Russian casualties during the battle for Grozny had begun to weaken the war's popularity. ... Still, Russia faces a guerrilla war that could continue for months or years. Progress toward a peaceful resolution of the war will have to await the presidential election. After that, the West should be poised to apply pressure for a negotiated settlement. TEXT: The Washington Post took the unusual step of reprinting the Associated Press photo of downtown Grozny in its editorial column, and then wrote its commentary on the Russian "victory" around the picture. VOICE: Russian leaders announced with pride Sunday that their armed forces had captured Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, five months into their war to subdue that rebellious province. Reports from the battle zone suggested that the Russians had not so much liberated the city as destroyed it. ... Grozny resembles nothing so much as Stalingrad, reduced to rubble by Hitler's troops before the Red Army inflicted a key defeat that Russian schoolchildren still celebrate. ... All in all, this is not likely to be a victory that Russian schoolchildren will celebrate generations hence. TEXT: The Post's view is repeated almost verbatim in The New York Times, which then suggests: VOICE: It did not have to be this way. ... The Kremlin at one point said it would work with moderate Chechen leaders to strengthen the uneasy peace that followed the 1994-1996 conflict ... a peace that gave Chechnya near- autonomy. But it is clear that preventing Chechen terrorism was never the Kremlin's primary purpose. ... The central aims were to avenge Russia's military defeat in 1996 and to lift the political fortunes of Vladimir Putin, the prime minister who became acting president when Boris Yeltsin resigned... TEXT: In New England, The Boston Globe agrees with U-S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who warned acting President Putin last week that his nation is, as she put it, riding a tiger in the Caucasus. VOICE: The tiger in this figure of speech is Moscow's current offensive against Chechnya. [Ms.] Albright's meaning is that the rider is fated to lose control of the tiger: that the war, if not stopped soon, will devour the ruling group in the Kremlin. [Ms.] Albright's warning to [Mr.] Putin makes sense only as a reminder that the war is unwinnable. As recent events in Chechnya suggest, the Kremlin has once again launched its bedraggled army into a counter- insurgency struggle with no sensible exit strategy ... Nevertheless, [Ms.] Albright's lament misses the mark if taken as an explanation of the war. It should be clearer than ever that the motives for the Russian assault on Chechnya are rooted in domestic politics. The war made possible the ascent of [Mr.] Putin as Boris Yeltsin's successor. In turn, [Acting President] Putin's accession to the concentrated powers of the Russian presidency assures the "family" -- the powerful clique behind [Mr.] Yeltsin's throne -- that its members will retain their assets and influence. [Mr.] Putin is the tiger. If [Ms.] Albright truly wants to help end the Chechen bloodletting, she should cease pretending that [Mr.] Putin misunderstands his self-interest. America should oppose the war because it is cruel and destabilizing, not because it is a Russian blunder. TEXT: On that note, we conclude this sampling of comment from the U-S press about the capture of Grozny by Russian forces, and the future of the Chechen conflict. NEB/ANG/WTW 09-Feb-2000 15:14 PM EDT (09-Feb-2000 2014 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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