Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 36

On June 20, Russian television reported from Budennovsk that former hostages were critical of Moscow’s handling of the crisis because the authorities had used force, and relatives of the hostages were critical because Moscow had not used enough and had allowed the Chechens to escape punishment. That division of opinion was magnified throughout Russia, but most of the media came down hard against Chernomyrdin’s deal because, the journalists suggested, it would only make more terrorism likely; at the same time they attacked Yeltsin for his unpresidential behavior. Overall more Russians seemed disposed to use force against the Chechens–at least now that the hostages are safe–but equally more Russians seemed to have lost confidence in their government and its leaders.

Segodnya said June 20 that the crisis had shown the government to consist of a “confused” and “frightened” group of people, more worried about their political survival than about the country’s welfare. Its commentator, Pavel Felgengauer, added that the crisis had ended in the “worst possible way,” one that would guarantee more terrorism, more insecurity and the likely rise of an “authoritarian police state.” Moskovsky komsomolets said that each of the two leaders had acted as if the other did not exist, and that the security agencies had ignored both, a position echoed by Kommersant-Daily. Sovetskaya Rossiya suggested that during the crisis, Shamil Basayev was running the country, not Chernomyrdin or Yeltsin.

Singled out for particular criticism were the power ministries for failing to prevent the hostage seizure. Moskovsky komsomolets suggested that one of the reasons that the crisis had occurred was that the security services had an informal “nonaggression pact” with the Chechen rebels. How else can one explain that journalists reached the Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev virtually every day, but the security people were unable to remove him from power. Russian radio reported suggestions from local people in Budennovsk that officials there had mafia-like ties with the Chechens and did not want to do anything to harm their own incomes from illegal business. And Moscow’s Ekho radio suggested that even the arrest of the Chechen representative in Moscow reflected poorly on the security services. Why did they wait six months to do this? the station asked.

Izvestiya went the furthest. It compared the government’s handling of the crisis to Gorbachev’s actions in Lithuania in January 1991. Then, as now, the paper said, the government used the same “unconvincing, vague words, the same hesitant moves, the same blatant dependence on obviously biased sources of information.” And it reminded its readers that “it is well-known how short was the path from January to August 1991,” the time of the coup that ultimately led to the dismemberment of the USSR.

Russia May Resume Nuclear Testing.