Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power

In This Review

Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power

By Anatol Lieven
Yale University Press, 1998
430 pp. $35.00
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For most of the world, including most Russians, the war in Chechnya was a loud rumble, but where it came from and what it represented remain something of a mystery. Lieven gives the war a precise, detailed, and compelling profile. From 1990 to 1996 he was the London Times correspondent in Moscow, and there the war became his beat. He covered it not merely from his office but during many trips to the region, and not simply to the ill- fated capital of Grozny but into the hills and amid the mundane brutality. Before Yeltsin made his tragic decision to intervene at the end of 1994, Lieven had been visiting the region for more than two years, so he knew well -- and reports well on -- the players and gambits going back to 1991. Lieven is a remarkably talented writer and a fine historian. As a result he provides much more than an eyewitness account of the war's smells, colors, and pain; he relates the conflict to Russia's own uncertain battle with itself, explaining the mix of politics and miscalculation that led its leadership to make this mistake, what the conduct of the fighting tells us about the state of the country, particularly key institutions like the military, and why, in the end, it lost. One is hard-pressed to say whether the Russian or the foreigner will gain more from this book.