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Russia's Wars in Chechnya


Russia’s Wars in Chechnya 1994-2009

Mark Galeotti, Osprey Publishing, £13.99

“History repeats itself.” I enjoy short poems and that is the first line of a memorable one. In November 1994, General Pavel Grachev assured the Russian President they could enjoy a short war. He should have read more history. This title from Osprey covers the conflicts of two recent decades, but wisely places them within their context of a struggle to retain independence which has rumbled for over four centuries.

Doing exactly what it says on the cover, Mark Galeotti’s book gives an excellent overview of the causes and courses of Russia’s wars in Chechnya. There are a great many photographs of the protagonists and good, though relatively few maps. While this is principally a history book – there are no orders of battle or uniform guides – it has all the information to provide any number of wargaming scenarios.

Since the late sixteenth century, the battle has been classically colonial: innovative indigenous rebels waging guerrilla war on larger, technically superior occupying forces:. Only the urban landscape and weaponry have changed. If you can muster a Chechnyan village in a wooded, hilly area, the tabletop teaser of “Clearing Rebel Forces (and uncovering their weapons stash for glorious victory)” could be set in Pike and Shot, Eighteenth Century, Napoleonic or Colonial periods, as well as the modern one. A series of games running through history in the same geographical setting would provide very interesting insights into tactical development and provide an exciting challenge to player’s wits: “Charging straight up that road didn’t go so well for my Crimean veterans, but now I have helicopters…” – that kind of thing. Meanwhile, if you ever invested in Stalingrad 1942 terrain, Grozny 1994, 1996 or 2000 looks exactly the same.

The book highlights the human stories which fuel the politicians’ larger narratives and does not shrink from describing the conflict’s evolution from rebellion to terrorism to internally divided vicious holy war. The last pages hopefully suggest a different, more optimistic future for Chechnya and its people. That predicted by one of the Russian high command is less sanguine: “In twenty to thirty years… we’ll have to smash them down all over again”.

History repeats itself (goes the poem).

Has to.

No one ever listens.

Highly recommended if this part of the world or warfare interests you.

Neil Nicholls

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