Customer Reviews: Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power
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on May 20, 2000
Mr. Lieven does an excellent job in his analysis of the Chechen conflict, but readers should use caution against potential bias. During his time in Chechnya, the author seems to have grown quite affectionate toward the Chechens. This leads to the Russians being painted as the villain (not that they are angels, but neither are the Chechens). However, Mr. Lieven does provide a fascinating insight into the war. I love his miniature analyses of the evolution of modern war. This book is not for beginners, but few Yale publishings are. Beginnners should look for a Chechnya book from a mass-market publisher.
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on October 12, 1999
Lieven's book is sporadically brilliant at telling the story of why the Russians failed to conquer Chechnya, and why they'll probably fail again. In particular, he brings to the fore how russian foreign policy is dictated by the internal political struggles amongst the rich and greedy; and how the russian military suffers from a serious lack of morale.
But the book has serious problems: Lieven assumes his readers are as knowledgeable as him. For instance, Lieven talks of all these important figures in the Chechnyan war, but often doesn't bother to introduce them. He doesn't explain who General Dudayev was until about 50 pages through the book. The legendary exploits of a great chechnyan rebel, Shamil, aren't discussed till near the very end of the book. Lieven doesn't discuss the history of Russian involvement in chechnya till two-thirds of the way through the book.
There's no damn map, so often you have no idea what took place where.
If you want a good short introduction to the chechnya conflict, this isn't it. You're better off starting off with something a little simpler, that actually tells the story in a relatively linear and straightforward manner.
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on November 1, 1998
Lieven gives a vivid account from the front line in Chechnya during the recent war. He spoke to the main protagonists on both sides and also to the common soldiers or fighters. He offers many lively examples of Russian incompetence and corruption and writes admiringly but not uncritically about the courage and tenacity of the Chechens who fought this once mighty military force. Lieven also analyses thoroughly the broader military and political reasons for the Russian defeat and traces its causes to the general state of political decay in present day Russia. He offers the historical background of the very troubled Russian-Chechen relationship. He draws many interesting parallels with other political systems where corrupt and incompetent leaders have remained in power over longer periods of time e.g. in certain Latin American countries. Lieven writes critically about western analysts such as the historian Richard Pipes who still tend to regard Russia as an inherently expansionist power. Military expansion, in his view, is simply not on the agenda for a very long time, if only due to the very sorry state of the Russian military and of politics generally. A very insightful book, very rewarding.
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on July 29, 2002
This book is one of the most important works for those who read, write and think about any of the following:
RMA Issues;
Post-Soviet Society;
Tribal Society;
East-West Divisions;
The Rule of Law;
and Human Rights.
There is very little that this book does not at some point find a way to address. That is my only real problem with the text: Like its author, it has a way of involving many different ideas that may, or may not, actually hold together to make a compelling argument. However, unlike other authors' attempts to weave this kind of tapestry, this book succeeds more often that it confounds.
I think it is the first book I have read that accurately captured just what was going on in Chechnya in terms of what had happened in Moscow. This is more than a typical piece of modern war-correspondent work. This is an author who understands both sides of the conflict, and not only in terms of the tactical and strategic pictures. More than a blow-by-blow account of Russian brutality (which it contains as well), it moves beyond the normal, facile explanations of Russian behavior in the Caucasus.
Would the normal view of an expansionist Russian still account for the ways in which the first Chechen campaign was conducted? Only partly, and it would be wholly unsatisfying to stop there. To answer this question requires a deeper understanding of modern Russia than you would get from the traditional explanations coming from Conquest et. al.
What Lieven has done here is to capture more than the status on the ground. He has achieved the first real and complex portrait of the Russia of Boris Yeltsin, the Russian army in its post-Soviet incarnation, and one of the best examples of the kind of analysis that needs to be done on modern armies who must confront ancient societies.
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Professor Lieven does an interesting look at how Chechnya has impacted Russia in his look at the war of 1994-1996. It is very well done in detail and looks at the historical and practical reasons for the Russian defeat in the war. As other reviewers have pointed out there is a bias from the author and it is not for beginners. During his time in Chechnya he has become a fan of the Chechens and it is obvious in the way that he characterizes both parties in the war. This is a very intense and widely ranging scholarly work looking at factors including military, sociology, economics, religion, politics and history related to the conflict. The author makes a very strong point related to the character of the Chechens on religion and culture and why the fight in the war as a religion older than Islam. For those who really want to dive into why the Russians struggled in this conflict and how it persists into today this is a great book to use.
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on November 3, 2003
This book is an example of how embarrassing it can be for an author to go out on a limb with his prognostications. Lieven declared in this book that after the Russians were driven from Chechnya (the first Chechen War) they wouldn't be back for many years. Well, they're back - and with a vengeance.
Lieven does point out some interesting things along the way, of course. It's amazing to read that central Grozny - destroyed by the Russian Army and Air Force - was primarily inhabited by Russians, especially older, retired Russians, not Chechens. Subsequent events in Moscow's Dubrovka Theatre - where the security services killed all the Chechen kidnappers and most of their Russian hostages - show just how little the Russian government values the lives of its citizens. In any event, each tidbit of useful information is offset by either an error or an unsubstantiated opinion. For example, Lieven wonders why Russian TU-22 or Tu-26 bombers were not used to destroy rebel sanctuaries. Well, for one thing, TU-22 (Blinder) bombers have been out of the Russian active inventory for many years. As for the TU-26, it doesn't even exist. Lieven should know that the bomber he wanted to refer to is the TU-22M (Backfire.) Apparently what Mr. Lieven lacks in knowledge he's more than willing to make up for in speculation.
Perhaps the most egregious shortcoming of the book, though, is the total lack of maps and diagrams. The author makes dozens of references to locations throughout Chechnya, but provides not map one. For all the reader knows, Chechnya could be somewhere in Central Asia, and where the locations are inside Chechnya is anybody's guess. Nevertheless, it's obvious from reading the reviews on these pages that some readers got a lot out of the book. For that reason alone I think that this book would make a good stocking stuffer for a history/politics buff at Christmas. A nice token, but not something to be taken too seriously.
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VINE VOICEon July 12, 2006
This 1998 book examining the war between Russia and its breakaway republic Chechnya is a product of great expertise and tremendous thoroughness. The war is examined from all angles in great detail. Furthermore, author Anatol Lieven has an affecting writing style when he relates his personal experiences among the Chechens. But things are still unsettled in the former Soviet Union, and events have overtaken this book. New wars have broken out in ways and in places that call Lieven's theories (which were based on the best information available at the time) into question.

For the person who needs to know the current zeitgeist in the former Soviet republics, this book is too dated to be of much use; while for those who are interested in the Russia/Chechnya war as a historical subject are going to have to wait until the region settles before a definitive account can be written. This is a good book from a thoughtful, talented, and well-informed author; but the lapse of time has rendered it unfit for its purpose.
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on January 30, 2002
Undoubtedly a fine work. Comprehensive, Incisive and written with great passion. However it does assume at least a passing aquaintance with the actors, thus for the beginner it would be probably be advantageous to supplement with additional material.
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on December 30, 2008
I never thought I would say that I was ashamed to have read / purchased a book, but here's the first. But I did feel much better after I threw it in the trash, thank goodness it was bought with a gift card. The manner in which Lieven waxes eloquent concerning the "remarkable" Chechens, and Shamil Basayev, the terrorist who masterminded the rape and slaughter of school children at Beslan is sickening. It would be similiar to someone of Jewish descent to read a glowing review of Adolph Hitler, or an American to read how Osama Bin Laden's actions are justified based upon our presence in Saudi Arabia. Besides, the prediction of the title shows the author had it all wrong to begin with, and obviously shows how knowledgable he is, or was, on the situation in Russia.
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on September 10, 1999
Reading this book was like being on a rollercoaster of Russia's descent into oblivion, a descent that is far from over. It provided amazing insights into the degeneracy of this once-great nation - a story that few appreciate. This book will help you understand and appreciate it.
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