MOSCOW - The Russian government lashed out Thursday at U.S.-funded
Radio Liberty, saying its first broadcasts to the North Caucasus
region were biased in favor of Chechen rebels.
"It seems the pessimistic prognoses ... are beginning to
come true," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Russia's
ITAR-Tass news agency.
"An analysis of the first broadcasts that went on the air
Wednesday show they are one-sided, to say the least."
Grigory Yavlinsky, the head of Russia's liberal Yabloko party,
also criticized Radio Liberty, saying its decision to broadcast
in the Chechen language showed "the tactlessness that is
typical of American politicians," the Interfax news agency
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty launched its new North Caucasus
service this week, broadcasting for two hours a day in the regional
languages Chechen, Avar, and Circassian, as well as Russian. Russian
officials, who have severely limited media access to Chechnya
and banned the broadcast or publication of interviews with rebel
representatives, have said that the Radio Liberty broadcasts could
help advance the rebel cause.
Sonia Winter, a spokeswoman at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague,
said the Russian government's accusations were unfounded.
"We were judged ahead of time, and I don't think with one
broadcast, one can make such conclusions," she told The Associated
Press. "I would urge them to continue listening before they
make up their mind."
Winter said RFE/RL had been broadcasting in Russian minority
languages for years, and the Chechen broadcasts were not unique.
The North Caucasus service had been scheduled to start in late
February but was delayed after the Kremlin denounced the idea
and threatened to revoke Radio Liberty's broadcast license if
the new broadcasts revealed a pro-Chechen bias.
The U.S. State Department said it asked for the delay to consult
with Congress, but later allowed the project to go forward.
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were established during
the Cold War to spread democratic ideas and values behind the
Iron Curtain. They were merged in 1975.
Beginning of broadcasting of Radio Liberty in Chechen is "not
very tactful" towards Russia