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.

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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!

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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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.

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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.

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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.

Check out this episode!

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Thank You!

As Chechens (led by many who grew up in the deportation) declare independence in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin’s Russia does nothing for three years. Embarrassment at the new state’s defiance eventually drives an attempt to topple the Chechen government through far superior arms. Spoiler Alert: Russia, thought to be the second most powerful country in the world at the time, gets a disastrous comeuppance.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

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.

Jocko Podcast #13: Chechens vs. Russians

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xqy3Sh7BlaY

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:

https://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/jenkinson.pdf

 

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There have never been more than one million Chechens in the world at any given time, and their homeland is no bigger than Connecticut, yet the trials and tragedy of the Chechen people have an underestimated but important legacy in the horrific guerrilla wars and terrorism of the twenty-first century. At the heart of the conflict is (of course) the policies of Josef Stalin, who attempted to deport an entire people to Kazakhstan in 1944.

Check out this episode!

 

Slideshow:

 

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.

 

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!

Jon Stewart darkly joked that for most people, Chechnya might as well be Narnia. He was right, and it’s a shame. The Chechens are a distinct and proud mountain people, steeped in long traditions of bravery, daring, and generosity. On the other hand, they also possess a cultural dark side of ruthless banditry, gangsterism, and unreformed ancient practices like bride-stealing. For the last 800 years, they have periodically defied imperial might (from the Mongols to the modern Russians) and tenaciously clung to their values.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • Rugged Chechen mountains are the heart of most of their insurgencies
  • Mongols conquered all of Asia, but not the Chechen spirit
  • Timur Leng, the fiercesome conqueror
  • Chechen medieval warrior
  • Chechen cavalryman, 15th century
  • Traditional Chechen “kinzhal”
  • Modern Day Chechnya

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.

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!

Apocalyptic: I find that’s the best word to describe the year 1099 in the lives of those who undertook the First Crusade. Anyone who’d survived this long (3 years of continuous marching and war—crazy in and of itself) still had several more months before the attainment of the final goal: the city of Jerusalem. Along the way, death by thirst, hallucination, cannibalism, and frustrated lower classes rising up and seizing control of the whole enterprise from their “superiors” would mark the journey. The culmination of their efforts would leave a legacy that echoes to the present day.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)

Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored.

The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both.

Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman

It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

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!

I see such a metaphor for human forces here: how whatever Pope Urban II and Emperor Alexius had in mind for this holy war/armed pilgrimage, things quickly escalated out of their control and the message and mission as it came to actually be almost swept both men right off their feet. Never underestimate the power of human passion! Although doomed to failure and disaster, the first wave of people (under Peter the Hermit) to attempt the approach to the Holy Land would have important effects on how both the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantine Greeks perceived the following waves—underestimations both groups would later come to regret.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)

Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored.

The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both.

Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman

It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

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!