It would also counter negative reports of hazing, desertions and corruption permeating the armed forces.  

 

The new channel - Zvezda (Star) - is aimed "to develop the feeling of national pride among its citizens ... a feeling of responsibility for Russia's fate and pride for the nation's great historic past and belief in its future," Zvezda producers said in a news release on Monday.

  

The station was test-launched on Sunday and will initially be broadcast in the Moscow region, said Sergei Savushkin, the channel's director, at the opening ceremony on Monday. Later this spring, Zvezda is expected to begin operating in many other of Russia's 89 regions.

  

"Zvezda is about the belief that our country is the most beautiful in the world, that our history is the most heroic and that the future is in our hands," said Ivan Kononov, a TV journalist and one of Zvezda's creators.

 

Demoralised

  

The demoralised and under funded Russian military is seeing numerous desertions, suicides and other violent incidents, including vicious hazing by older conscripts.

Putin has called for youth to
cultivate patriotism

Military officials including Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov have sought to boost the army's prestige, and President Vladimir Putin has called for cultivating a sense of patriotism among Russia's youth.   

Savushkin said that the channel would dedicate 10% of its programmes to military topics - movies, documentaries, talk shows and a planned reality show detailing the lives of conscripts in barracks. Savushkin added that Zvezda will also appeal to a broader audience with programmes for children, sports coverage and music shows. No news programs are planned for the first year.

  

All of Russia's four television channels are either owned or tightly controlled by the government, prompting critics to express doubt over the need for yet another TV channel promoting state views.

 

Non-governmental

  

But Savushkin stressed that Zvezda was not funded from state coffers other than using the Defence Ministry's technical equipment. He said Zvezda was a "commercial venture" operating on investors' money but didn't specify who the investors were.

  

"...we won't paint the picture only in black colours as is usually done now - we will tell the true story"

Alexander Lebedev,
head of radio and TV, Russian
Defence Ministry

Anna Kachkayeva, a TV analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said the project's goals as well as its prospects were "very unclear."

  

"You cannot promote patriotism only on one channel," said Kachkayeva. "The project is either intended to serve someone's private interests or the Defence Ministry is trying to prove that it didn't get the frequency in vain."

  

Kachkayeva also questioned the claim that Zvezda would operate as a private channel, saying that the project would require massive state funding and resources, which could be put to better use - such as providing housing to cash-strapped officers.

  

Zvezda producers pledged the channel would not only praise, but also air critical coverage of the Russian armed forces.

  

"But we won't paint the picture only in black colours as is usually done now - we will tell the true story," said Alexander Lebedev, head of the Defence Ministry's TV and radio operation.