In This Review

Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus
Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus
By Carlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal
New York University Press, 1998, 416 pp

If governments were forced to suffer on a scale matching the stupidity and callousness of their decisions, the Yeltsin government would be in the last circle of hell for what it did to Chechnya. Gall and de Waal were both correspondents with The Moscow Times; he was also with The Times of London and The Economist. Of the Western journalists in Moscow, they were among those closest to the Chechen war. Their intimate knowledge of all aspects of the conflict is evident at every point in their lucid, lean text. They covered much of the story of the war on the spot, but to complete their reconstruction of the events leading up to the war and the more remote politics of the war itself, they later interviewed a vast cast of participants from both sides. They also steeped themselves in the history of the region, and they use this knowledge to give depth to a disaster that should never have happened. Yeltsin and the ham-fisted band with which he surrounded himself in the months before the December 1994 invasion are not the only villains in this evenhanded account. Dzhokhar Dudayev, the Chechen leader, and his unsavory inner circle match their every stupidity with an equal shortsightedness; their criminal incompetence with a comparable criminality.