Chechnya

Tombstone of Russian Power

Anatol Lieven; With a new Introduction by the author; Photographs by Heidi Bradner

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The war between Russia and the Chechen separatist forces, from December 1994 to August 1996, was a key moment in Russian and even world history, shedding a stark light on the end of Russia as a great military and imperial power. Anatol Lieven, a distinguished writer and political commentator, was a correspondent for the London Times in the former Soviet Union from 1990 to 1996 and was commended for his coverage of the Chechen War by the British Press Association.

In this major new work of history and analysis, Lieven sets Russia’s humiliation at the hands of a tiny group of badly organized guerrillas in a plausible framework for the first time. He offers both a riveting eyewitness account of the war itself and a sophisticated and multifaceted explanation for the Russian defeat. Highlighting the numerous ways in which Russian society and culture differ today from the simplistic stereotypes still current in much of Western analysis, he explores the reasons for the current weakness of Russian nationalism both within the country and among the Russian diaspora.

In the final part of the book Lieven examines the Chechen tradition, providing the first in-depth anthropological portrait in English of this extraordinary fighting people. In his representation of the character of the Chechen nation, Lieven contributes to the continuing debate between "constructivist" and "primordialist" theories of the origins of nationalism and examines the role of both historical experience and religion in the formation of national identity.

Anatol Lieven currently reports from Central Europe for the Financial Times. In 1996-97 he was visiting senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence, published by Yale University Press.

Anatol Lieven is Editor of Strategic Comments and an expert on post-Soviet affairs at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London. He is also the author of The Baltic Revolution.

"Lieven . . . offers a compelling view of Russia’s defeat in Chechnya (based on his eyewitness account of the fighting), as well as a revisionist interpretation of Russia’s role as a global power. . . . Of all of Lieven’s challenging interpretations, the most forceful is his suggestion that Russian society has fundamentally changed, making it impossible to follow traditional Western approaches that assume lasting continuities in Russian and Soviet history. . . . A serious contribution to understanding both the implications of the Chechen war and the broader debate among scholars on appropriate interpretations of Russia’s role in the post-Cold War period ahead of us."—Kirkus Reviews

"Journalism at its best, vivid and humane, stark in its portrayal of what modern war does to the texture of civilized life."—Geoffrey A. Hosking, Times Literary Supplement

"Anatol Lieven has written an enthralling account . . . an important and original contribution to the study of war and how and why men wage it."—Marcus Warren, Sunday Telegraph

"Mr. Lieven examines the weaknesses of Russian nationalism and shows why this potentially destabilizing force has remained relatively quiescent in populations live outside the borders of the Russian Federation. Mr. Lieven argues convincingly, that the oligarchy of powerful bankers and "reformed" communists that now dominates the Russian state has little interest in promoting national self-awareness. [An] insightful book." —Christian Caryl, Wall Street Journal


"Lieven gives the war a precise, detailed, and compelling profile. . . . 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."—Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs



"Very rich. A solid, vivid account, informed by extensive study of how wars are fought, and it is written with a skill that verges at times on the poetic. [Lieven] has traveled widely and he has read wisely on the history of warfare, on Russia, on economics on political theory. The book is a great, ostentatiously erudite festival of ideas, sometimes brilliant, never less than interesting. Lieven is shrewd about the illusory economic reforms and unusually acute on the nuances of Russian nationalism. He makes a strong case that the occasional imperialist rhetoric about restoring the Soviet Union is not to be taken seriously." —Bill Keller, New York Times Book Review

"There is far more. . . to this authoritative work on Chechnya than colorful descriptions of battle scenes or of analyses of military strategy or of profiles of bravery under fire. [Lieven] not only analyses the immediate background to the war but paints a striking picture of the state of Russian culture, politics and military preparedness in the build up to the full-scale hostilities of January 1995."—Seamus Martin, Irish Times


"Lieven writes with authority as a political scientist, an economist, a historian, an anthropologist, but above all as a journalist. . . . The result is a solid, academic work, enlivened with journalistic flair so that it sparkles with acute observation and anecdote."—Carlos Mavroleon, Literary Review


"Lieven knows his subject well."—Philip Marsden, Sunday Times

"This book pays tribute to the Chechen people. They alone emerge from the calamity with honour. . . . They managed to create a nation for themselves against overwhelming odds."—Economist Review

"A very worthwhile read for anyone interested in Chechnya and the wider issues of the Russian debacle there. . . . Lieven's excellent reporting. . . brings alive much of the discussion."—Carlotta Gall, Moscow Times


"Anatol Lieven displays an immense knowledge of world as well as Soviet/Russian history, and has been able to fuse both academic knowledge and personal experience into an impressive work of scholarship and high-quality journalism."—British East West Journal

"[Lieven] brings to the study . . . a formidable grasp of history, an appetite for knowledge, a zestful style and a penchant for gentle humor, all of which makes his excellent book not only enlightening but a good read too. Lieven examines in great detail the condition of the Russian armed forces. Lieven’s panorama of Russian-Chechen relations and also depictions of his own travels and lengthy conversations with Chechen soldiers, or officers, politicians of all stripes, as well as with their Russian adversaries, all help make Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power one of the truly brilliant books of contemporary history."—Abraham Brumberg, Los Angeles Times

"Lieven gives the war a precise, detailed, and compelling profile. 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."—Robert Levgold

"A commanding eye-witness account of the recent Chechen war and the personalities and power maneuvers surrounding it. . . . Helpful in understanding Russia and Chechnya today, and rich in firsthand information."—Publisher’s Weekly

"A probing account of the Russian defeat in Chechnya and its importance in revealing the end of Russia as a great military and imperial power. Lieven's perceptive and intelligent work succeeds in all of its objectives, providing a gripping eyewitness account of the war in Chechnya, a lengthy account of the reasons and meanings behind the outcome, and a useful examination of the character of the new Chechen nation and its people. Lieven's work is the best account currently available on the Chechen war and its consequences not only for Russia, but for our own understanding of the post-Communist world."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"Lieven has compiled a thorough and insightful account of Chechnya’s post-Soviet resurgence and Russia’s post-Soviet decline."—Maura Reynolds, Book World

"Anatol Lieven has written a book of great importance for understanding not just the Chechen conflict but the entire course of post-Soviet politics. Chechnya is really three books: one about the war, one about the collapse of the Russian state, and one about the creation of the modern Chechen nation. All are excellent . . . One of the most important books on post-Soviet Russia and one that should be read by a wide audience."—Thomas M. Barrett, H-Net Book Review

"Lieven explores the character, causes, and consequences of the Russian defeat in Chechnya. . . . It is the most thorough account of the fighting [in Chechnya] yet available in English. . . . Lieven, an acute observer thoroughly versed in Russian history, offers a tale well told."—Choice


"Lieven has written a superbly detailed and thoughtful study of Russia's problems as revealed in its debacle in Chechnya. His forthright conclusions will spark considerable polemic."—Frank Day, Magill's Literary Annual 1999

"Well-researched and richly detailed, Lieven's monograph successfully deals with many complex issues without simplifying them. Integrating front-line reportage, anecdotal evidence, and sophisticated analyses of contemporary politics within a wider historical context, Lieven has produced an excellent and persuasive book not only on the Chechen war, but also on the state of Russian politics and society on the eve of the twenty-first century."—George O. Liber, Canadian Journal of History


"An excellent work. . . . Lieven’s work is unsurpassed as a primer on the Caucasus region, contemporary Russia, and the disintegrating Russian Army."—Lester W. Grau, Military Corps Gazette


"This is much more than a journalist’s account of the recent war in Chechnya. It confidently ranges across Russian and Soviet history, has a good deal to say about the nature of nationalism and colonialism and . . . provides a telling critique of some of the received wisdom regarding Russia’s long-term economic and political development."—Mark Webber, Political Studies

"As well as being an outstanding study of the Chechen war, Lieven’s book is also one of the more intelligent accounts of post-Soviet Russia that has appeared in recent years."—David Schimmelpenninck Van Der Oye, International Journal

ISBN: 9780300078817
Publication Date: June 10, 1999
448 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
12 b/w illus.