MOSCOW — Russia has reacted with real anger to Thursday’s broadcast on ABC of a lengthy interview with Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord who is deemed by Moscow the most dangeorous terrorist in the country.
A protest from the Russian embassy in Washington to ABC on Thursday before the broadcast failed to halt its scheduled airing. On Friday the Russian Foreign Ministry called in the acting head of the U.S. mission in Moscow to register strong official disapproval, as a ministry spokesman spoke of the Alphabet web providing a “tribune for a bandit.”
The issue has also been dominating local news, with top broadcaster Channel 1 giving it considerable length as the lead item in its first evening news broadcast Friday. In terms including “propaganda and double standards,” and implying that the Ted Koppel “Nightline” show was cheaply going after ratings, it included archive pictures of 9/11, as well as an interview with Al-Jazeera’s Moscow bureau chief, and freely compared Basayev to Osama bin Laden, with whom the Chechen has admitted he has had contact.
On Channel 1, Chechen president Alu Alkhanov described the broadcast as “absolutely hard to understand,” given ongoing joint American and Russian efforts against terrorism.
Basayev, a decade-long Chechen separatist who has commanded or overseen some of the most bloody acts of the conflict, has a $10 million bounty on his head from the Russian authorities. He led an incursion that took a regional hospital captive back in the 1990s, and had claimed responsibility for organizing September’s Beslan school capture, which led to more than 300 deaths, including many children. In his “Nightline” interview, Basayev denied direct association with that incident.
The ABC interview appeared to be taken by Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky, who currently works for Radio Liberty in Prague. It was not immediately clear when or where the recording was made.
Babitsky, a longtime reporter on Chechnya, himself came into the frontline some years ago when he was apparently handed over to separatists by the Russian military, and kept captive before reappearing unharmed later in a neighboring republic.