History teaches only one thing — that it teaches nothing. The truth of this maxim was confirmed on New Year’s Eve, 1994, when, 15 years and a week after the beginning of the bloody and fruitless Afghan war, the Russian Army, ventured into Chechnya. The ostensible reason given for the invasion was to keep the Russian Federation intact (“if Chechnya secedes, Tatarstan, Buryatia and others might follow”), to counteract an illegal secession movement. Other reasons — e.g. oil, pride of power and even racism — lurked just below the surface. Nonetheless, the war in Chechnya turned out to be as bloody, destructive and inconclusive as the invasion of Afghanistan.
A lot has been said about the victims of this horrendous war. Carlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal (see book review, page 35) came to love and respect the Chechens for their bravery and suffering in standing up to the Kremlin’s hasty decision to fight, rather than negotiate.
But also to be counted among the victims were the underfed and ill-trained conscripts of the Russian army. Russian Life’s permanent photographer Sergei Kaptilkin visited their side of the barricade early in the war, and brought back some harrowing pictures, which we present here.
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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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