The camera pans at pavement level across Freedom Square in Grozny, zooming in on the charred, twisted wreckage of Russian armored vehicles and the charred, twisted wreckage of Russian boys in uniform.
It is not a pretty picture. For the first time, images like this one from the fighting in Chechnya - and other footage at least as disturbing - have become a part of the daily television news diet of millions of Russians.
The sight of dead, maimed and captured Russian soldiers is coming as a shock here. Much more than the impassioned denunciations of political figures, the images of Russia’s first major televised conflict appear to be stirring bitter opposition to what was already an extremely unpopular war. Moreover, the pictures seem to have canceled out the government’s Soviet-style propaganda campaign, which has produced a blizzard of lies, disinformation and distortion about the war in Chechnya.
“I watched it on TV - so many people were killed, there must be hundreds,” said Nina Kizyakova, 80, a retired doctor. Russian President Boris Yeltsin “should be shot for this.”
Americans were first confronted with pictures of their own dead sons in the 1960s, when the Vietnam War entered U.S. living rooms through TV screens. Since then, from Beirut and Iran to Somalia, footage of slain GIs has defined the nation’s visual recollection of crises and conflicts. Until now, though, Russia had no comparable experience.
During the Soviet Union’s venture in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when, according to official counts, 15,000 Russian troops were killed, strict state censorship sanitized the images that reached Moscow and the provinces.
The state’s grip on the media has loosened considerably since the Afghan war. The result is that as the war in Chechnya reached a climax this week with a ferocious battle in the heart of Grozny, the military debacle for Russian troops is being magnified for the entire nation by gruesome and wrenching pictures.