Russia - Being Nice To Mr Putin

25 Minutes

10:00:03 The capital of Chechnya is not an easy place to get to.

10:00:09 PTC

Grozny is particularly tense at the moment there’s a rumour going around that the rebels have planned an attack to coincide with a 5 years anniversary of a victory they had over the Russians. That anniversary falls in 2 days time.

10:00:24 This is officially Russian territory --- it’s also the most vivid symbol of President Putin’s new Russia. That’s why they make it as hard as possible for anyone to come here.


TITLES: “Being Nice to Mr Putin”

10:00:47 This is the face of Russia we are meant to admire. Puskin Square, Moscow, named after Russia’s greatest poet


It’s amazing Pushkin Square has been transformed since I was here 11 years ago. There are foreign advertising hoardings up on every building. Pepsi and TGI Fridays, Martini, and you can just make out the logo for Izvestia which was one of the old Soviet Newspapers. It’s barely visible compared to all this flashy Western advertising and in the middle of it, poor old Pushkin doesn’t look like he knows what to make of it all.

10:01:28 In theory, all this prosperity shows that Russia is moving in the right direction.

10:01:34 But it’s wafer thin. This revolution was founded on new freedoms, economic and political, free mrakets and free speech. But these days, it seems, you can have one without the other. I wonder why.

10:01:50 I took the train south to sample civil rights in the brave new Russia.


It’s about 100 degrees in this train and the window doesn’t open, so I’ll probably melt, but I’m leaving Moscow because everyone in Moscow has told me that Moscow is a State within State and it’s a law unto itself and people have far more freedom than they do in provincial Russia. So I’m going to Belgorod in the far south where there’s a journalist by the name of Olga Kitova who has apparently suffered really serious harrassment.

10:02:21 President Putin is certainly passing laws that make for better business in Russia. The theory goes that pushing the market economy will produce greater political freedom. But the woman I was going to see gives the lie to that.

10:02:36 Belgorod: nine sweaty hours later.

Recently, Olga has been fighting to free some boys here who she says have been wrongly convicted of sexually abusing a schoolmate.

I found her in an apartment belonging to one of the boys mothers.

They had gathered to watch a programme about the case. Everyone hoped it would vindicate the boys.

UPSOT “Olga?”

10:03:08 Instead, it made Olga out to be a troublemaker and dismissed her complaint that the police had used violence when they arrested her.

The station showing the film, NTV, used to be critical of the government, but a few weeks ago a new pro-Putin management had taken over.

10:03:36 UPSOT OLGA

She’s saying that what we just saw on NTV was an absolute lie and a fabrication.

10:03:44 Olga felt that she had been treated unfairly by the new NTV.


She says that when she tried to get the material of her arrest which she needed for her defence which she was allowed by law, the prosecutor absolutely refused to hand it over to her and yet they have given it to NTV.

10:04:07 Olga told me that her real crime was daring to investigate corruption and financial mismanagement in Belgorod. She was convinced that her campaign to free the imprisoned boys was being used to destroy her.

FX phone gets put down

And she had just got some more bad news from her lawyer.

10:04:30 PTC

That was Olga’s Moscow’s lawyer. She’s charged with a crime of slander, public slander, crime against a personality, all connected with articles which she published in Belgorod Pravda, about these boys.

10:05:03 In the days when Olga believed glasnost, openess, counted, she got herself elected to the local council.


She thought it would give her more power to fight corruption. But now, when she tried to take us up to her office, she couldn’t even get past the guards.


It seemed like Olga’s world was closing in on her.

Amnesty International say she is being harrassed simply for doing her job.

If Olga’s convicted of libel she faces five years in prison. She will have been silenced. .


10:05:40 She’s saying it’s the first times she’s been stopped from bringing anyone in. She says she has brought all sorts of big groups with her in the past.

10:05:53 Her case is not unique. Last year 69 Russian journalists were attacked and beaten up, but they didn’t make the headlines in the West. The days when civil rights in Russia were top of the agenda are long gone.


A lot of what she said is really no different from what other Russians are willing to tell you but only in private. And if only 20 per cent of her allegations were true then it would still be a devastatingly bleak picture of provincial Russia.

10:06:23 And back in Moscow, I found there are more subtle ways to silence critics of the government.


I’m headed to the offices of Echo Moskvy which incredibly is the last independent broadcaster in Russia and even now threatened with takeover.

Outspoken Echo Moskvy is in danger of being swallowed up by the pro-government energy giant, Gazprom.


Basically anyone who’s anyone when they come here, comes on Echo Moskvy. You can see Bobby De Niro, looking a bit rough. Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and lots of politicians appear on this. “

10:07:04 Its boss, Alexei Venediktov, was planning a trip to Genoa to persuade the leaders of the G8 – the world’s largest economies – to help protect the station’s independence.


He says that G8 is a gentleman’s club, that works by certain rules and their leaders must explain to Putin that if Russia wants to be a member of G8 then it’s got to work by the same rules and rules meaning Freedom of Speech.

10:07:45 Venediktov is a Russian celebrity but he needs the support of guests with international clout to maintain his independence.


10:07:56 Yet when Britain’s Prime Minister was last in Moscow, he was too busy to give an interview.



Tony Blair actually declined an invitation to appear on Echo Moskvy when he was here, but Alexei Alexeyev that he extends another invitation to Tony Blair any time he likes to come on.

10:08:28 Once glasnost meant that independent voices like Venediktov’s flourished in Russia. Not any more.

What has hastened the decline of free speech is the war in Chechnya.

The current war is thought of as Putin’s war and he doesn’t like critical reporting—so gradually it’s dwindled to almost nothing.

10:08:55 I decided to go to Chechnya to see what it was that wasn’t being reported – and why.

10:09:05 Cities of tents told us we were approaching the border with Chechnya.

We called into a camp where we’d heard there were new arrivals. A few weeks earlier, Russian soldiers had swept through their villages, rounding up the men.


10:09:26 And in that position they had a plastic bag like this tied around their necks and they were throttled with it.

10:09:44 We were taken aback by the mood in the camp. Some people seemed hostile to us – they felt their suffering was being ignored – and they were angry.

The west had stopped caring about human rights in Russia. It just wanted a cosy relationship with Mr Putin, as local human rights worker Elizia Muzayova explained to me.


Chechens don’t expect anything from Russia, but they don’t understand the indifference of the West. They can’t understand why the West is silent, Western mothers have children too. They can’t understand the indifference of the West.


10:10:29 A lot of the people here told me that they are being pressured to go home but they are adamant, adamant they won’t go back. And the extraordinary thing to me is that a lot of these people are from Grozny, Grozny is only 2 and a half hours away by road. It makes you wonder what on earth they are afraid of. What they told me is that they are terrified of what the Russian army will do to them if they go back.

10:10:49 We drove towards a disused railway line that marks the border.

You have to remind yourself that Chechnya is part of Russia.

A small army of rebels has been fighting to make it independent.

For a brief time, they drove the Russians out. But now, Russia controls most of the republic again.

10:11:15 Four weeks earlier, Russian soldiers carried out a zachistka here.a clean-up.

Salambek was one of the men they rounded up and tortured, hoping he would confess to being a Chechen bomber.


They beat us and tortured us, with a stick. With electricity!

They were tortured with electric shocks he says. He saying I think that they had one wire on his hands and another wire that they put on different parts of his body. In his ear and sometimes on his tooth.

10:12:06 Salambek eventually came home. Some of the other men didn’t.


10:12: 15 He is 29 years old. This is her husband Zilimkhan Humkhanov, this is the guy who disappeared. He never took part in anything military, nothing criminal, never broke the law. This is the other guy who didn’t come back. The soldiers went to another village where they carried out another Zachistka and there are witnesses there she says who saw these guys in a very bad state and they’d been beaten up and they weren’t being given anything to drink.

She says there are witnesses who saw them at the next village. After that no-one saw them. No-one knows what happened to them after that.

10:13:08 We drove on towards Grozny, the Chechen capital. Up ahead we could see Russian army checkpoints. Even with accreditation, we had been told it would be foolhardy to film them. We hid the camera.


10:13:23 It takes two and a half hours to travel ordinarily, but things are far from ordinary still. It’s taken 6 hours checkpoint, after checkpoint after checkpoint to get here to the outskirts of Grozny.

10:13:38 The Russians control its ruins by day. At night, they retreat to their bunkers and the streets become lawless.

We were warned to keep out of sight as much as possible.

The only whiff of the global market here is the trade in foreign hostages. Kidnapping is the last profitable business in town.


10:14:07 We stayed our first night with Hamzat, who has lived here thoughout the war.


10:14:26 He says at night you lie down to sleep and in the morning you don’t know if you are going to wake up alive or not. He says we say the night’s past thank God. He says at the moment there is stealing and killing and people are getting killed for their money.

I said who’s doing this, he says who knows? People wearing uniforms in masks, but he says who they are exactly no-one really knows.


Officially, the Russian government has told the refugees its safe to come back to Grozny. That struck me as pretty surreal.

Perhaps the chief surgeon could give me a tour of the hospital and introduce me to some of his patients.


This kid was, has a bullet injury. He was hit by a single bullet.


The Russians’ version – that this is a war against international terrorism sponsored by the likes of Osim Bin Laden --- goes virtually unchallenged by western governments as long as Mr Putin keeps Russia open for business.

Good for foreign investors; less good for the civilians in the crossfire.


This another bullet injury.

10:16:16 There are booby traps and landmines scattered all over the city.

We met a man who’d stumbled on one in his vegetable patch.


This guy was blown up by a home made mine, it’s a grenade which has a wire which is pulled apart. He is saying that they… He says that Russian soldiers plant them he says you can’t know, it could by the Russian soldiers, it could be the rebels it’s just not clear.

10:16:50 There is nothing for refugees to come back to here, homes that were not destroyed have been looted.


This is the home of a lady who has lived through both wars in Grozny. It’s a bomb shelter and she lives down there.

She likes the Director’s head scarf.

10:17:29 Baba Zoya used to work in the cafeteria at Grozny University.

Now she lives in the university’s nuclear bunker, a relic of the Cold War. It’s about all that’s left of the university.

She’s been living here for two years, fifty feet under the ground.

She told me she hadn’t always had it to herself.


She is saying that this chimney was put in by the rebels who were here and she was living here at the same time. There were rebels, Chechen rebels.

There are food smells here, so I guess this is the kitchen.

This is the wash room.

There’s a way out here, so I guess if the other way was blocked they’d be able to get out here. This is the back door.

10:18:43 The Russians say they’re making efforts to rebuild Grozny. We didn’t see any sign of it.

10:18:57 But as we drove back to where we staying we saw an extraordinary thing: a man whitewashing the kerbstones outside his flat.


I said, why are you white washing and he said so it’ll be clean. It’s just so amazing that he is trying to maintain civic standards in the midst of all this chaos. He said the bomb came right through the roof and destroyed a wall of the apartment, but didn’t explode, but if it had gone off then it wouldn’t be standing and there’d be nothing to white wash.

10:19:37 Shamsudin told me he was living on his own. His wife was in hospital recovering from shrapnel wounds.


That’s the hole in the roof where the bomb came through.

And it either bounced or maybe came in at an angle and smashed through this wall here.

I said is he afraid of the ceiling, he said what afraid that it’ll fall in?

He said no we’re not afraid. Let it fall in, what the hell.

10:20:30 He hasn’t got much left but it’s safer that way.If had anything he’d be robbed


That’s the building that is supposed to have a sniper on the roof. At night he says there’s a Russian sniper up there. Call me superstitious but I don’t really want to hang about on that balcony.

10:21:10 If all this were happening during the Cold War, western leaders would have been queuing up to condemn it.

10:21:21 We’d planned to stay another night. But there was a rumour of a Chechen attack.


So the authorities have closed off the entire city. Theoretically and officially cars aren’t allowed in or out. We’re hoping to get out because the closure is rumoured to last for 3 weeks and we can’t afford to spend that much time in Grozny. Unfortunately it means negotiating with every blokpost from here to Ingushettia and obviously we can’t film at the blokpost otherwise they’ll take away our camera.

10:21:51 We drove as fast as we could. The first checkpoints loomed.

10:22:03 Twenty four hours later we were back in Moscow and the glitz that we’d prefer to think of as 21st century Russia.

I arranged to meet one of the most outspoken critics of the tacit deal between Putin the West.

Yevgenii Kiseliev is a household name in Russia,


Marcel – Channel 4. Nice to meet you too.

He was the anchorman of NTV, Russia’s independent television station until Putin’s allies took it over earlier this year.


Mr. Putin is getting away with the Chechen war, he is getting away with his crackdown on Russian democracy. Most European governments with a few exceptions but British government definitely is not an exception. They took a tactic of appeasement, a tactic of appeasement, to pacify Mr. Putin, not to irritate him in order to build some sort of a pragmatic relationship with Moscow.

10:23:14 Outside a PR stunt was promoting a car rally -- unimaginable in Soviet Russia.

Capitalism was meant to bring not only glitz but democracy; not only hamburgers but human rights.

10:23:36 Across the road, people were demonstrating against the war in Chechnya.

No-one except us was taking pictures of them.

10:23:51 So that the world can do business here, we turn a blind eye.

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