Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power
By Mr. Anatol Lieven
Publisher: Yale University Press 1999 448 Pages
PDF 1 MB
A correspondent for the Financial Times, Anatol Lieven spent much time in Chechnya, the postage-stamp-sized Caucasus republic whose break from Russia in 1994 precipitated a major war (one that Russia lost). Lieven looks into the long, troubled history of Russian-Chechen relations, noting that each side despised the other for largely cultural reasons (the Chechens have long been involved in organized crime in major Russian cities, whereas Russians have long tried to strip Chechnya of its resources). He notes that Chechen society has historically been militarized (one Armenian said to Lieven, "The men are always fighting and the women are cooking for them, nursing their wounds, and bringing up their children"), making the mountain people a formidable foe. In the meanwhile, writes Lieven, the Russian military suffered from low morale and from corruption of various kinds: Russian field soldiers sold their guns to Chechen guerrillas for vodka and currency, while Russian officers stole their soldiers' pay and Russian politicians skimmed off the top. This is an extraordinary look at a little-known conflict.
From Publishers Weekly
Journalist Lieven (The Baltic Revolution) offers something of a three-course menu in his latest book. The first is a commanding eyewitness account of the recent Chechen war and the personalities and power maneuvers surrounding it, followed by his analysis of the breakdown of the Russian military and, indeed, of the entire Russian political structure after the Soviet Union's collapse. Third is a condensed history of the Chechen (and North Caucasus) region?its people, culture and attitudes, concluding with the author's prognoses. As his subtitle might suggest, Lieven's emphasis is on issues of Russian power?Chechnya's strategic and symbolic significance, the breakdown of legitimacy, mismanagement and pervasive corruption within the Russian state, from Yeltsin down, which destroyed public and military morale. Russian troops who survived by theft while fighting a guerrilla war they had no training for ended up asking why they were fighting outside Russia, risking death without pay, only to inflate remote political egos and fortunes. Lieven shows enormous respect for the Chechens, whose memory of Stalin's mass deportations between 1944 and 1958 galvanized their resolve to be free. Although helpful to understanding Russia and Chechnya today and rich in firsthand information, the work's three main themes remain unsatisfactorily integrated, while Lieven's indictment of post-Soviet Russia begs for a larger work, with Chechnya as one telling chapter.