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The War Nerd June 28, 2002
What's a Chechen?
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 3 of 3
But one of the things the last century taught us is that it's real hard to kill everybody in a city. Berlin in '45 looked unlivable for anything bigger than a rat. The USAF was hosing it down like cropdusters over a tobacco field every day, and the RAF -- and those fuckers were the real thing, meaner than the USAF any day -- came through every night with their incendiaries, burning whatever the Yanks hadn't blown up...but there were millions living under the rubble. There were factories going full speed right to the last minute. People are hard to kill, it's weird. And people were still living in Grozny. I saw some of the interviews they gave, back when the Western press was trying to be interested. It was very much like Berlin, the streetscenes: ghost walls, a few trashpiles still burning, and old ladies appearing from nowhere to moan to the news crews about their missing grandkids and how hard it was to get decent coffee. It was...I don't know how to say was kind of nostalgic, you know? It was a very 20th c. style of war. I guess you have to admit that the Russian Army is a very 20th c. Army. You can tell it's not really designed for the new sort of war. So it was kind of nice to get all this footage of them having one last fling.

And the Chechens could take it. Fuck, admit it: they probably enjoy that stuff. Not everybody's a college-boy Quaker, you know. The Russians and the Chechens fought one of those slow, bloody street-by-street wars for the rest of the winter. The Russians finally "liberated" Grozny a block at a time -- only by the time they'd finished, there weren't any blocks. Just brickpiles. The Chechens did what any idiot could've predicted they'd do: they fled to the countryside and started ambushing convoys.

And that's where I start to lose the thread, to tell you the truth. Weird, weird stuff started happening after that. Like this amazing raid some Chechens made deep into Russia, taking hostages and actually getting big ransom. Supposedly the only reason they didn't get to Moscow is they didn't have quite enough cash to pay off any more soldiers; they'd paid off about a hundred Russian checkpoints and gotten deep into Russia before the petty cash ran out. Pretty hilarious, if true! They occupied some provincial hospital and the SpetzNaz killed a bunch of hostages while "rescuing" them, in approved Munich style. Then the Chechens and their surviving hostages just went back to Chechnya: "OK, everybody on the bus! Field trip's over!"

After that it just gets too weird for me to follow. Like: was this all about Berezovskii? One thing I read said he was in with the Chechen gangsters and the war was a way for Yeltsin to punish him for that -- is that true? You guys would know better than me. Somebody blew up those apartment buildings in Moscow -- either the Chechens or the FSB trying to get support for Putin. Which was it? You tell me. Then the "Second Chechen War"...which as far as I can tell is a bad sequel, hardly worth watching. Eventually the Russians will run out of troops -- they've got no birthrate -- or the Chechens will run out of people -- there are only about half a million of 'em left.

But nobody's watching any more. Too far off, too inland, too much of the same thing over and over. I mean, I'm sorry, I guess I'm not doing my war-specialist job here...but fuck it, I'd rather watch those assholes in Arizona burn to the ground. That's a war I can understand.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.
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