Academic journal article Military Review

The Second Chechen War: The Information Component

Academic journal article Military Review

The Second Chechen War: The Information Component

Article excerpt

By using professional military jargon in their reports, journalists lend the war an everyday flavor. Thus, in Chechnya the army is "working". Aircraft are not bombing and the artillery is not firing on towns, but rather, as the journalists put it, they are "working on towns." Rather than speaking of an "assualt" on Grozny -a term which has painful associations for Russians-the military terms "special operation" and "mop-up" are used.

IN DECEMBER 1994 Russian authorities made their first attempt to crush Chechen separatism militarily. However, after two years of bloody combat the Russian army was forced to withdraw from the Chechen Republic. The obstinacy of the Russian authorities who had decided on a policy of victory in Chechnya resulted in the deaths of at least 30,000 Chechens and 5,000 Russian soldiers.1 This war, which caused an estimated $5.5 billion in economic damage, was largely the cause of Russia's national economic crisis in 1998, when the Russian government proved unable to service its huge debts.2

It seemed that after the 1994-1996 war Russian society and the federal government realized the ineffectiveness of using colonial approaches to resolve ethnopolitical issues.3 They also understood, it seemed, the impossibility of forcibly imposing their will upon even a small ethnoterritorial community if a significant portion of that community is prepared to take up arms to defend its interests.

Aslan Maskhadov was recently elected president of the Chechen Republic and has been so recognized by Russian officials. In 1997, when Maskhadov visited Moscow to sign a treaty, both he and President Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement obligating both sides to resolve peacefully all contentious issues arising between the Federation and the Chechen Republic.

Just a few months before the second war, Russian Prime Minister Sergey Stepashin stated that federal troops would not be sent into Chechnya, which most experts believed. However, in August 1999 President Yeltsin removed Stepashin from his post and named Vladimir Putin as his replacement. In October combat actions began anew in Chechnya. Russian authorities called these actions "operations to suppress terrorism," while journalists christened them the "second Chechen war."

The militarization of the mass consciousness. It is striking just how quickly Russian society's attitude toward the war in Chechnya changed, beginning with the change in the opinion of politicians. In June 1999 the Communists and most political parties in the Russian Parliament (the Duma) angrily demanded that President Yeltsin be removed from office, saying that he had "unleashed the war in Chechnya." But by that November most Duma members (with the exception of the Yabloko faction) supported "unleashing" a new war.4

In 1994 the press deplored the introduction of troops into Chechnya. The initial bombings brought such strong protest that the president was forced. to declare publicly that he had ordered the bombings stopped. The bombings did not stop, but it was as though they were being earned out against the will of the commander-in-chief. Now the situation in the press has changed: gone is the former emotional anguish, gone are the passions about the loss of innocent civilian lives. Instead, official summaries and dry reports of the army's victories dominate. By using professional military jargon in their reports, journalists lend the war an everyday flavor. Thus, in Chechnya the army is "working." Aircraft are not bombing and the artillery is not firing on towns, 'but rather, as the journalists put it, they are "working on towns." Rather than speaking of an "assault" on Grozny-a term which has painful associations for Russians-the military terms "special operation" and "mop-up" are used.

The press has changed its attitude toward the obvious untruths of Russian politicians and the military in their comments on the second Chechen war. The press quickly refuted statements by Russian generals that the Russian army had not bombed border areas of Georgia and had not fired on a Grozny market place, or that Russian soldiers had not killed a saleswoman in a little store in Ingushetia and had not participated in pillaging in the village of AlkhanYurt. …

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