cover image CHECHNYA: To the Heart of a Conflict

CHECHNYA: To the Heart of a Conflict

Andrew Meier, . . Norton, $11.95 (131pp) ISBN 978-0-393-32732-8

Meier was Time's Moscow correspondent from 1996 to 2001, during which time Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, was reduced to rubble. This compact summary of the wars fought there (one under Yeltsin, one under Putin) inevitably makes grim reading. It is packed with firsthand reportage that draws one in immediately, but Meier also provides a running history lesson: various Caucasian nationalities converted to Islam in the 17th century; were brutally conquered by the Russians in the 19th; deported under Stalin and returned to their homelands under Khrushchev; and suppressed when attempting autonomy. Even with Meier's careful tracing, the full motivations for both sides of the recent wars are still not fully comprehensible, although there is some finger-pointing at Wahhabi Islam, and the links between the Chechens and various Islamic terrorist groups are disquieting. The Russian military, however, is shown as the epitome of savagery and ineptness, with deliberate massacres of civilians and destruction of Grozny. Meier has procured more interviews with victims than with the Russian brass or rank and file, but the final sense is of a situation more the Russians' making than anyone else's. No matter where the pieces eventually fall, as a work of summary historical analysis mixed with quick-hit war reportage, the book fills an important gap. (Nov.)