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What now for Chechnya?

Press criticism was aimed at Putin's war in Chechnya

(swissinfo.ch)

The Swiss press reserved judgement on Russian president Vladimir Putin's handling of the Moscow hostage crisis, but took a dim view of his offensive in Chechnya.

The papers shied away from outright criticism of Moscow's decision to pump gas into the theatre, where the hostages were held, leading to at least 167 deaths.

Russia pays "a high price" was the view of the German-speaking press. Editorial writers said the number of dead was far too high for Putin to claim a success, but that Russia's action had demonstrated that it could not be intimidated.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung said the outcome could have been far worse.

The French-language paper "Le Temps" made it clear that Putin was not a man to be underestimated. "Forced to act, Putin had no hesitation in sacrificing the hostages," it wrote.

The implications for the war in Chechnya were the focus for most editorial writers. Zurich's "Tages-Anzeiger" said it would be mistake to see the hostage crisis as "Russia's September 11" because this would give Russian forces a free hand to carry on its brutal campaign in the breakaway republic.

"Nihilistic jihad"

The paper takes the view that Chechen separatists, unlike al-Qaeda - which Washington blames for September 11 - are concerned only with securing a territory not a "nihilistic jihad".

Le Temps agrees: "The Chechen problem remains and cannot be reduced to a fight against 'international Islamic terrorism."

Putin, the paper says, has brought a credibility and dignity to Russia that it lacked in the Yeltsin era. But, it adds, he has failed in Chechnya, merely continuing "the violent impasse" brought about by his predecessor.

From Chernobyl to Chechnya

Bern's "Bund" newspaper sees the handling hostage crisis as typical of Moscow politics "from Chernobyl to Chechnya".

It lashes out at Russia's brutal war in Chechnya, saying that under the guise of a "war against terrorism" it has pushed ahead with a "scorched earth policy" in the stricken republic.

As for solutions, the "Berner Zeitung" is in no doubt that the hostage crisis will push Russia to hammer the Chechens even harder.

That's a view shared by the "Tribune de Genève", which described the events in Moscow as a "pointless tragedy".

"One would like to believe that it could alter the conditions of the Chechen conflict," the paper writes. "That it could lead to more moderate forces getting the upper hand in Moscow, or lead the Russian leaders and the Chechens to negotiate the inevitable compromise.

"One would like to believe it, but that would be... to underestimate the tragic absurdity of these events."

The press takes the view that military means will never settle the conflict, and Russia needs to move towards a diplomatic solution. The Tages-Anzeiger says this will only come about with international involvement.

Others are less specific, but for the Bund one thing is clear: "It's high time Russia redefined its role".

swissinfo

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