Part 1 of a series on historical events that are widely overrated in aspects of their impact and yet actually underrated and deeply misunderstood. President Abraham Lincoln ‘s landmark Emancipation Proclamation is known popularly as what “freed the slaves,” but its story is far more complex. Skeptics correctly point out that it did very little to change the legal and actual status of slaves anywhere in America at that time, but I break it down here for the brilliant practical strike at the institution of slavery that it was. Honest Abe for the win, and within the limits of his Constitutional Power to boot.

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Chechens have been in an almost 200-year struggle against Russian imperialism. While they remain in an occupied state, the spirit of their people is very much alive. Through their struggle, we can see the consequences of brutality, the power of evil, the heart of a people, the early buds of radicalization, the way misinformation shifts focus and spreads lies. Ultimately, this episode is a reflection on how small events can have a huge ripple effect on the modern world and how we ALL have a role to play in that, either through silent consent, ignorance, or informed action.

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The last of the rebel “old guard” are hunted down, killed, or driven into exile. Chechen traitor/Russian puppet Ramzan Kadyrov rules Chechnya through fear. A generation of traumatized and/or radicalized children remain.  Some depart for the bloodbaths of Ukraine or Syria in a tragic epilogue. What’s next? How do we evaluate the legacy of the struggle?

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From left to right: President Abdul Khalim Sadulayev (killed in 2006), leader of Dagestani allied rebels Rappani Khalilov (killed in 2007) and Abu Hafs, third commander of the Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya (killed in 2006)

For Further Awesome Reading…

Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya by Sebastian Smith

This is hard-hitting embedded journalism, but Smith does a great job introducing the roots of the Chechen conflict in the opening chapters. From there he covers his experiences on the frontlines reporting the war for the French Press in the mid-90s.

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings by Brian Glyn-Williams

In-depth historical look at the conflict and its roots. I wish it had been by a better writer: this is one of those books that you read after you’re already interested deeply in the subject. It wouldn’t make a convert out of anybody else. Still, there’s really useful stuff here and it’s easy to read.

The Lost American: Killing Chechnya by Fred Cuny 

This is an excellent article by an embedded American journalist—one who paid the ultimate price for his bravery in reporting. While he was with the rebels, Russian double agents passed along false information that he was a Russian spy, resulting in his execution. The opening paragraphs of this article, written in 1995, are eerily accurate for the future Cuny would never see.

The Sky Wept Fire by Mikhail Eldin

This is a personal account of a Chechen fighter and spy during the 1990s. While occasionally a little too purple in prose, it captures the desperate position of the guerrillas well.

One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko

A personal account from the other side: a Russian conscript, but then, curiously, a volunteer. Babchenko recounts the hazing, poor training, and hopeless situation of the Russian draftee deployed to Chechnya, and the moral trouble and “gunpowder disease” (read: addiction to combat) of the redeployed volunteer. Grim book, worth reading for anyone.

Jocko Podcast #13: Chechens vs. Russians

Jocko has a great podcast in general, but this one is particularly relevant here as he analyzes U.S.  and Russian military primary sources for conclusions about urban combat in the Chechen Wars. Jocko does a great job breaking down the disintegration of morale in the Russian forces and the discipline problems that resulted, along with the effective tactics of the guerrillas.   If you like this one, check out his review of Babchenko’s book as well.

For the tactical observation text Jocko references:

The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad by Robert W. Schaefer 

Schaefer is a Special Forces Colonel and intelligence analyst. I love this book because it was made to be informative for future analysis and action as it concerns this conflict, and it comes from a military expert. Too many books on Chechnya are written by amateur scholars trying to grab a buck or arrogant, ignorant blowhards like Mark Galeotti (avoid his work). Schaefer is occasionally a little dry, but he’s the real deal.

Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State

Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya

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After years of attrition taking their toll, a desperate Shamil Basayev turns once more to terrorism. Things are very different in 2004 than they were in 1995, however. The 9/11 attacks and state control of Russian media ensure that instead of helping the rebels, horrific events like the Beslan School Siege further cut off the Chechen cause from any hope.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

The School, Esquire Article by C.J. Chivers, March 14, 2007

“On the first day of school in 2004, a Chechen terrorist group struck the Russian town of Beslan. Targeting children, they took more than eleven hundred hostages. The attack represented a horrifying innovation in human brutality. Here, an extraordinary accounting of the experience of terror in the age of terrorism.”

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings by Brian Glyn-Williams

In-depth historical look at the conflict and its roots. I wish it had been by a better writer: this is one of those books that you read after you’re already interested deeply in the subject. It wouldn’t make a convert out of anybody else. Still, there’s really useful stuff here and it’s easy to read.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing, or making a donation at the bottom of the page. We love reviews and the Centurion reads every single one! Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Thank You!

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The brutality and incompetence of the Russian Army is on full display in opening months of the war. Their overwhelming force and the assistance of Chechen turncoats begin to turn the tide in their favor, however. Supplies choked off and numbers dwindling, the rebels disperse for guerrilla war.

Check out this episode!

Chechen fighters kneeling to pray
Russian soldiers climbing a mountain in southern Chechnya

For Further Awesome Reading…

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings by Brian Glyn-Williams

In-depth historical look at the conflict and its roots. I wish it had been by a better writer: this is one of those books that you read after you’re already interested deeply in the subject. It wouldn’t make a convert out of anybody else. Still, there’s really useful stuff here and it’s easy to read.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing, or making a donation at the bottom of the page. We love reviews and the Centurion reads every single one! Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Thank You!

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The overreach of the Chechen warlords and the rise of Vladimir Putin combine to precipitate the re-
invasion of Chechnya in 1999. Grozny is besieged once again and destroyed in urban combat. Both sides
have learned from ’94-‘96 but this time Russia is committing far more. Staged “terrorist” attacks help
Putin rally support, even as he kills his own people.

Check out this episode!

Russian Army on the move
Moscow Apartment Bombings September 1999

For Further Awesome Reading…

Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State

Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya

Support the Edge of History podcast!

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After their improbable victory in the war for independence, the Chechens quickly discovered that as hard as winning the war was, winning the peace was even more difficult. A ravaged country, shattered infrastructure, and difficulty enforcing law meant that the challenges facing the new government were ultimately insurmountable.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

Schaefer is a Special Forces Colonel and intelligence analyst. I love this book because it was made to be informative for future analysis and action as it concerns this conflict, and it comes from a military expert. Too many books on Chechnya are written by amateur scholars trying to grab a buck or arrogant, ignorant blowhards like Mark Galeotti (avoid his work). Schaefer is occasionally a little dry, but he’s the real deal.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one! Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Thank You!

After the Russian Army finally wrests the capital of Grozny from the rebels, its momentum stalls and it resorts to indiscriminate carpet bombing and massacring civilians. In an ominous turn for the future, the desperate rebels engage in mass hostage-takings that stall the war further. With able guerrilla commanders exploiting low Russian morale and poor organization, the rebels shock the world by retaking Grozny in 1996. Russia withdraws and the democratic Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is born! Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Lost American: Killing Chechnya by Fred Cuny This is an excellent article by an embedded American journalist—one who paid the ultimate price for his bravery in reporting. While he was with the rebels, Russian double agents passed along false information that he was a Russian spy, resulting in his execution. The opening paragraphs of this article, written in 1995, are eerily accurate for the future Cuny would never see.

The Sky Wept Fire by Mikhail Eldin

This is a personal account of a Chechen fighter and spy during the 1990s. While occasionally a little too purple in prose, it captures the desperate position of the guerrillas well.

One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko

A personal account from the other side: a Russian conscript, but then, curiously, a volunteer. Babchenko recounts the hazing, poor training, and hopeless situation of the Russian draftee deployed to Chechnya, and the moral trouble and “gunpowder disease” (read: addiction to combat) of the redeployed volunteer. Grim book, worth reading for anyone.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one! Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Thank You!

Intense times like these truly make me notice how undervalued the study of history is. I bring up the historical precedents of a lot of what we see and people will often tell me “I wasn’t a good history student….I’m not much for names and dates” or something of that sort. At best I’ll get the classic saying “Well, you gotta learn from history so you don’t repeat it.” Yes, but…NO. 

It’s so much deeper and richer and more complicated than names and dates, for one thing. For another, be careful what you ‘learn.’ Some of history’s worst catastrophes started with “obvious” conclusions about what had happened in the generations before. 

This podcast is all about the real reasons to study history, how to approach it, and how it might be one of the great hopes to save humanity.

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Featured Art is “Face of War” by Ukrainian artist Daria Marchenko and Daniel D Green

I normally avoid a podcast on current events: there is so much even the best cannot know or understand until years have passed. I have been asked about this many times over the last two weeks from those who know I’ve been paying close attention to Putin for twenty years and have European history background. While my knowledge is incomplete, I might have some useful stories for the layperson that is just seeking to understand something about this crisis.

Check out this episode!

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Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!