A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya

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Russian interest in the region can be traced to when Ivan the Terrible annexed the Caucasian city of Astrakhan, former site of the Tatar khanate. Russia would not return to the region for another years. The Chechens, who call themselves Nokhchi, are an indigenous people of the North Caucasus mountains. Repulsed by the Daghestanis and Chechen mountain warriors, Russia fell back again, but would press on for the next 50 years with sporadic raids on Chechen and Daghestani territory.

In , Imam Sheik Mansur, a Chechen warrior and Muslim mystic, led a coalition of Muslims from throughout the Caucasus in a ghazavat, or holy war, against the Russian invaders.

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Calling for Islamic unity, Mansur also tried to introduce Sharia law to Chechnya. Captured by the Russians six years later in the northwestern Caucasus, Mansur was imprisoned in St. Petersburg until his death in Participants are believed to establish direct contact with God by chanting special prayers while dancing in a circle around an imam, who claps out a rhythm. Introduced to the Caucasus from Daghestan by adherents of the Quadir Sufi sect, the zikr would be frequently performed in Chechen town squares during the war against Russia.

Sufi warriors, led by the guerilla commander and religious leader Imam Shamil, avenged their kin and led revolts against Russian occupation of Chechnya and Daghestan in a campaign that would last for more than 25 years. A legendary military strategist, Shamil created a strict imamate that enforced Islamic laws and customs in the North Caucausus and managed to support a reserve army of 40, men.

Resistance came at a cost, however. Historians estimate that between and , Chechnya lost half of its population and its entire economy to the war with Russia. Shamil was finally forced to surrender to Russian troops in Upon defeat by Russia, Chechnya was incorporated into the Russian Empire.

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Thousands of Chechens were deported to Siberia. Nearly , sought haven in Turkey and other parts of the Ottoman Empire.


Contemporary Russian impressions of Chechens remain shaped by the writings of such 19th century Russian poets as Mikhail Lermontov, who described them as a lawless people with a strong addiction to the kinzhal traditional Chechen dagger and blood vengeance. In May , while Russia was busy building a new Bolshevik state, Daghestanis and Chechens formed a North Caucasian Republic and declared their independence.

A rebellion broke out in eastern Chechnya led by Said Bek, a great-grandson of the legendary leader Imam Shamil. While literacy rates soared under Soviet rule, Stalin unleashed a brutal cycle of political repression in the region that culminated in the mass execution of some 14, Chechens and Ingush. In , as part of its Russification policy, the Kremlin decreed that Chechen must be written using the Cyrillic alphabet. The Chechens had switched over to the Latin alphabet from Arabic in Under the leadership of separatist leader Jokhar Dudayev, Chechnya returned to the Latin alphabet in It is estimated that 30 percent of the Chechen exiles died on their way to resettlement or within their first year of exile.

German forces in the Caucasus had pushed toward the valuable Grozny oil fields, but had been stopped outside of Chechnya at Vladikavkaz in After years of crushing Chechen anti-collectivization revolts and other flare-ups against Soviet rule, Stalin appears to have decided that having a rebellious Muslim population in the North Caucasus was too risky. In , after 13 years in exile, Nikita Khrushchev permitted surviving exiles to return and Chechnya and Ingushetia were re-established as an autonomous republic.

But when the Chechens returned home, they were often unable to reclaim their property, now occupied by Russians and other neighboring ethnic groups. Separatist leader Jokhar Dudayev, who led Chechnya in its bid for independence in the early s, was a child of the Chechen deportations.

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Born just weeks before their start in , Dudayev and his family were transported from their mountain village to the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan and forced to work on a collective farm. Dudayev returned to Grozny in In the late s, as national rights movements slowly began to take shape under the policy of glasnost, a campaign for Chechen self-determination emerged.

In November 23, , with separatist fervor at fever pitch throughout the Soviet Union, a Chechen National Congress convened and called for parliamentary and presidential elections. My clear intent to write up and publish what I found in those sources was not a problem. The result was that I ended up finding what I needed. One downside to working on the Soviet military, even sixty years later, was suspicion. Military history in the USSR was an exclusively military preserve an excellent argument for keeping military history vigorous in our universities , and a foreign civilian studying the military was naturally presumed a spy.

I was asked directly, more than once, whether my true employer was the CIA. The golden age ended even before I left Moscow. Putin's administration has been rightly blamed for chipping away the liberties of the Yeltsin era, but the archival reversal began well before Putin. In my experience, the key moment was Chechnya. The outbreak of open warfare in December had an immediate and palpable effect on archivists' attitudes, and limits on research became much tighter.

Feature History - Chechen Wars (1/2)

Things are nowhere near the bad old days of the Soviet Union, but it's hard not to miss those first heady years. By David R.

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Understanding Russia’s War Stories

David R. Personal Anecdote Stalin dismissed historians as "archive rats," but Russianists have proudly adopted the label.

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  5. Quotes By David R. Stone "From to , a vast transformation swept through the Soviet state, economy, and society, a transformation as stark in its changes and as far-reaching in its implications as the simultaneous and better-known revolutions shaking Soviet society. While collectivization cahnges the face of the Soviet countryside, and Joseph Stalin quashed dissent both within and without the Bolshevik party to turn it into a tool of his personal rule, a military-industrial revolution transformed the Soviet Union into an immensely powerful war machine.

    The militarization of the Soviet economy and political system, marked by increased control from the center, a substantial role for the military in making policy, and a large and growing defense industry, was an essential element of Stalin's revolution from above. The story of the late s and early s is of the steady and inexorable destruction of every barrier to massive rearmament in the USSR. He clarifies Russia's place in the ebb and flow of alliances among emerging nation states in Europe.

    Every Russian history written in the past 20 years contains much of the same information that Stone presents, but he has a notable ability to clarify military history and thereby Russian history generally. Stone shows the profound effect of this military-industrial revolution, not just on the Red Army, but on society and the state. This study enriches our understanding of the Soviet economy in the s and s, and by extension, the obstacles post-Soviet Russia has encountered in trying to undo the Stalinist legacy.

    Seeking to enhance the breadth and depth of our knowledge of militarized societies, Stone demonstrates the military's dominance in the state's economy and its decisions regarding resource allocation. Hammer and Rifle shows the defense sector's stake in Stalin's victory over his domestic political opponents. A beautifully-written study, Hammer and Rifle is important for our understanding of a certain type of civil-military relations.

    Stone proves himself an adept economic and political as well as military historian as he charts the ways in which military concerns, especially the Manchurian crisis of , led to profound changes in Soviet economic policy and accelerated the concentration of political power in the hands of Josef Stalin. Yet Stone also persuasively demonstrates how the militarization of the Soviet Union created serious problems both in the medium and long term.

    This lucid, impressively documented, and important study reflects Stone's mastery of historical research, analysis, and writing. Touching on nearly every significant issue of the period, he deepens, challenges, or modifies many existing interpretations and cuts through the fog of conjecture, theory, and half-truths that still cloaks the era between and Here is not only an exposition of that 'military nature', the 'militarized culture' which was fundamental to Stalin's Soviet Union.