In 1994 Russian president Boris Yeltsin ordered an invasion after Chechnya's intractable president, Johkar Dudayev, declared independence for his warrior nation. The result was a disastrous three-year war that took the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers, destroyed the Chechen capital of Grozny, and created a crisis of leadership for Yeltsin.
Gall and de Waal, who covered the war for the Moscow Times, offer an authoritative portrait of combat and a convincing explanation of the origins of the disaster. They deftly put the war into its historical context, describing the Chechens' forced incorporation into imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Parallels are drawn between policies under monarchist and Soviet rule, and special attention is paid to Stalin's devastating deportation of the Chechens to Central Asia in the late 1940s, an event that contributed greatly to the Chechens' determination to gain independence.
By covering such background, the authors provide a necessary glimpse into the lasting sense of injustice and anger that has spurred many Chechens into action against the Russian army. But while their sympathies clearly lie with the colorful Chechens, the authors remain objective in their assessment of Chechnya's questionable leaders and the corrupt nature of modern Chechen society. Thus, both Yeltsin and Dudayev are assigned some of the blame for hastening the disasterthe former for his bullying nature and misunderstanding of the Chechens, the latter for his Bolshevik tactics.
New Year's Eve
The people of Grozny were woken before dawn by a thundering bombardment crashing around them. It was New Year's Eve 1994 and they should have been preparing for what was traditionally their biggest holiday of the year. Instead, from 5 a.m. until mid-morning they cowered as attack aircraft roared overhead, diving low to hurl bombs at the city. In the high-rise apartment blocks on the east of Grozny, a few residents, already weary from nights spent in their cellars during weeks of bombing, climbed to the top floors to watch the planes. A one-storey house was already burning furiously, the rafters cracking in the intense heat. Some Russian pensioners, white with shock and brick dust, crawled out of their bombed building and sat wailing on the pavement, still in their nightclothes. Tank shells and mortars were now slamming into the city with steady consistency, growing closer and harder by the hour. Everyone in the Chechen capital knew this was more serious than ...
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