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This riveting account reveals the secret corners of our supposedly flat world: black markets where governments are never seen but still spend outrageous amounts of money. Journalist Matt Potter tells the story of Yuri and his crew, a gang of Russian military men who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union found themselves without work or prospects. So they bought a decommissioned Soviet plane-at liquidation prices, straight from the Russian government-and started a shipping business. It wasn't long before Yuri, ...
This riveting account reveals the secret corners of our supposedly flat world: black markets where governments are never seen but still spend outrageous amounts of money. Journalist Matt Potter tells the story of Yuri and his crew, a gang of Russian military men who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union found themselves without work or prospects. So they bought a decommissioned Soviet plane-at liquidation prices, straight from the Russian government-and started a shipping business. It wasn't long before Yuri, and many pilots like him, found themselves an unlikely (and ethically dubious) hub of global trading. Men like these are paid by the U.S., the Taliban, and blue-chip multinational companies to bring supplies- some legal, some not-across dangerous borders.
In a feat of daring reportage, Potter gets onto the flight deck with these outlaws and tells the story of their fearless missions. Dodging gunfire, Potter is taken from place to place by men trafficking everything from illicit weapons to emergency aid, making enemies everywhere but no reliable friends. As the world changes, we see the options for the crew first explode, then slowly diminish, until, in a desperate maneuver, they move their operations to the most lawless corners of Africa, where they operate to this day.
The story of these outlaws is a microcosm of the world since the end of the cold war: secret contracts, guerrilla foreign policy, and conflicts too thorny to be handled in public. Potter uses the story of these men to articulate an underground history of the globalized world. At once thrilling, provocative, and morally circumspect, this book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in espionage, or in how the world works today.
Engrossing examination of the role of ex-Soviet air crews in post–Cold War smuggling and global instability.
London-based BBC Radio reporter Potter deftly summarizes the impact of the Soviet military's sudden dissolution, which left a stockpile of useful military equipment at the disposal of black markets. One of the most significant was the Il76, "one of the biggest planes on the planet." Ever since, these aging yet rugged planes, and the men trained to fly them, have been instrumental in facilitating both globalization of capital and brutal discord, particularly via their unique capacity for smuggling. His intermittent travels with "Mickey" and crew, veterans of the Soviets' Afghan war, form the book's overall structure. In Potter's opinion, these hapless and evasive yet stoic and skilled aviators provide a ready metaphor for what happened to the world geopolitically after the USSR's dissolution—as Mickey puts it, "we flew [an Il-76] down to Kazakhstan and, you might say, rebranded." When faced with sudden privation, these ex–military men began transporting goods ranging from disaster aid and soldiers to drugs, weapons and blood diamonds all over the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. Potter is fascinated by Mickey's shadowy existence, which is both dangerous—there have been numerous suspicious crashes of Russian aircraft—and a key component of the so-called "grey market," in which legitimate entrepreneurs and aid organizations interact with the transnational criminal syndicates that grew with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Potter shadows Mickey's crew through Afghanistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Central America, the Congo and Uganda, at once entertained by the exploits and keyed in to their relevance to profound crises. The book reads more like a novel than straight journalism. The personalized narrative is taut and funny; Potter's prose strains, often successfully, to be ornate and haunting in portraying the doomed, absurdist lot of the airmen—though he tends to repeat these tropes.
An exciting yet disturbing look at a dark corner of current geopolitics.
Part I Good Men Are Hard To Find: The Crew
1 The Devil's Greatest Trick: Over Kabul 5
2 What Am I Doing Here? Serbia, 1998 16
Part II Everything You Know is Wrong: The USSR
3 The Lost Boys: Soviet Union, 1992 23
4 The Machine: Post-Soviet Russia, Early 1990s 34
5 The Birth of the Global Network: Russia, 1993 47
6 The Warlord Is Always Right: The Caucasus, 1994 55
7 Rogue State: Yugoslavia, 1994-1996 64
Part III Gold Fever: The Middle East And Africa
8 The Men with No Names: The Arab Gulf, 1995-1997 79
9 This Is How You Disappear: West Africa, 1995-1999 94
10 Plunder in the Jungle: The Congo, 1997-2000 106
11 Men of Wealth and Taste: Millan, 2000 117
Part IV High and Wild: Afghanistan To Iraq
12 The Boys Are Back in Town: Afghanistan, 2001 129
13 Afghan Black: The Drug Pipeline, 2002-2010 144
14 There Are Huge Forces: Afghanistan, 1995 and 2010 152
Part V Back to the Jungle: Central America and the Horn of Africa
15 High Times on the Costa Coca: Central America, 1999-2008 167
16 Welcome to Little Minsk: Africa, 2003 175
17 Russian Rain Keeps Falling: The Congo, 2005-2009 187
18 Just Drop the Cash out of the Plane: Uganda, 2009 207
19 Getting Your Kicks on Route Il-76: Central Asia and the Caucasus, 2009 226
Part VI The Journey Home: East Africa and Russia
20 The Ghost Factory: Russia, 2008 253
21 Death and Taxes: Entebbe to Ekaterinburg, 2010 263
22 The Gathering Darkness: Russia, 2010 276
Author's Note 297
Posted November 23, 2011
This book could have been exciting - instead it circles its point for 300 pages. It is basically the same information presented over and over, with about 5 interesting vignettes in the entire book.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 8, 2012
I read this book waiting in the shade while watching colorful Il-76s land in an ugly, dusty place. I enjoyed it but found it was somewhat plodding at times. Although informationally useful, it would've been a more enjoyable read with better character development, including the author, and the inclusion of more anecdotes, better fleshed out.
Still, I greatly appreciate Mr. Potter's efforts in terms of explaining the origins and operations behind these amazing airplanes and their crews.
Posted March 31, 2012
This is somewhat of a link between the whole spy and mercenaries worlds that imho has not been covered, and I found it all the more interesting for that, some pretty mindblowing discoveries in these pages, for instance the way charities and the US govt seem to be turning a blind eye to the arms smuggling trade and even use it to their own nefarious ends. Investigation pure and simple with evidence and adventureWhat can I say read the book and judge for yourselfWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.