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    Thursday, March 8, 2007

    This year's hot new travel destination: Grozny

    Incredible. Aeroflot-Don (one of those notorious "babyflots" that emerged from the state-run airline after the fall of the Soviet Union) has just announced that it will begin thrice-weekly flights between Moscow and Grozny.

    To me, this is stunning. The last time I travelled to Chechnya, I got there by hiding in the back of a battered Neva as we travelled along the dirt paths that head east from Nazran, the capital of the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. We avoided the main roads (we were travelling there without the permission of the Russian government, and feared we would be expelled from the country if we were caught) and never made it to Grozny because we received word that there was shooting on the road ahead of us. We did a few interviews in the town we stopped in, then got the hell out before nightfall.

    Chechnya, after years of non-stop warfare, was an incredibly dangerous part of the world, an easy place to get killed or kidnapped. Those of us who had to travel there from time to time - mostly foreign correspondents and aid workers - only did so after a lot of careful planning.

    Even when the Russian army took groups of foreign correspondents in to show us their side of the war, we didn't fly directly into Chechnya. We would fly first to a nearby town (usually Mineralnye Vodiy), and then travel in a guarded convoy to the main military base outside Grozny.

    You could sense how nervous the soldiers were; I spent one night at the base sharing vodka with some of the terrified young conscripts, and letting them borrow my satellite phone so they could speak to their families for the first time in months. Each one burst into tears when they spoke with their mother.

    Like in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Palestinian territories, I thought the resistance to the Russian presence in Chechnya would only end when the Russians pulled their troops out, as they briefly did in the late 1990s after their humiliating defeat in the first Chechen War.

    I'd read media reports recently suggesting that the second Chechen War really was over, and that Russia had finally asserted its control over the entire country. Frankly, I doubted them, and probably will until I return to see the situation again for myself.

    But if these flights start taking off and landing in Grozny without incident, that's a sign that things on the ground have changed dramatically.

    Of course, that's a very big if.

    1 comment:

    Sunshine Coast Hotels said...

    Interesting post. Very informative and well written. Though I'm not that familiar Grozny but because of your article, one of these days I'll visit the place.