Akhmed Zakaev’s memoir is an essential document for anyone who wishes to understand the fate of Chechnya in modern times and the rise of Vladimir Putin. Zakaev played a key role in Chechnya’s doomed wars with Russia between 1994–1996 and 1999–2003. He gives us vivid pen portraits of leading Russian opposition figures, all of whom are now dead. They include the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, the liberal journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and the FSB officer turned whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko, and the Cambridge-based Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky.
An acute analyst of international affairs, Zakaev observed earlier than most that Putin had a dark vision for Russia’s future, in which law and human rights counted for little. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the U.S. administration of George W. Bush were indifferent to the suffering of Chechnya. After 9/11 and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Putin cast his own murderous actions as part of the global war on terrorism — a casuistic and self-serving argument Western leaders were happy to embrace. Zakaev is a unique witness to these events — the last survivor, practically. His account is compelling and scrupulous, in a marvelous translation from the Russian by Arch Tait.
Chechen nationhood remains as elusive as ever. This volume keeps the possibility alive — for Chechnya’s diaspora and for future generations.
– Luke Harding, author of Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West
From 1999 to 2004, I was rapporteur to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe on the bitterly cruel conflict between Russia and Chechnya. It became clear that the only way to ensure enduring stability and peace would be a political solution. It would be essential to promote dialogue between Russia and those with whom it would not be easy for the Russians to talk. But anything less would ultimately prove counter-productive. A person who I became convinced would be indispensable to any such process was Akhmed Zakaev. I met with him on a number of occasions, and he always deeply impressed me. It was frustrating and sadly disappointing that the Russians obdurately refused to accept this. Akhmed is a highly educated and courageous leader who cares desperately for the identity and wellbeing of his fellow Chechens.
– Lord Judd, House of Lords, Rapporteur on the Chechnya Conflict, Council of Europe
One of the crucial questions implicitly posed by the author – not the only professional actor to have become a politician, but perhaps the only one who has actually played Hamlet on stage – is whether Russia can ever become a mere country, rather than remaining as an Empire. Yes, the Russian so-called Federation, still easily the largest country in the world, is still an Empire, whose rulers still treat its provinces, whether largely inhabited by ethnic Slavs or not, with not very benign contempt. Most Russian civilians have now left Chechnya, and the same is happening in all the largely Muslim Republics in the North Caucasus. With a declining birth rate among Slavs and a growing number of Muslims in Russia, it just may be only a matter of time before a stronger Rexit movement among ethnic Russian patriots and democrats in Moscow gets under way which would actually welcome the secession of at least this part of the Federation. Moreover, many members of the very large Chechen emigration now living in the West would almost certainly return to Chechnya with their children — and with the knowledge and skills that they have acquired during their exile.
Zakaev’s well translated (by Arch Tait) monograph, which has an exceptionally good index, is largely a detailed account of the two recent wars (especially the first) that Moscow has inflicted on Chechnya.
– Martin Dewhirst, The Salisbury Review
This memoir is a fascinating, subjective account of a turbulent decade and presents the Chechen view, warts and all. The book is fluently translated and a pleasure to read.– Martin McCauley, East–West Review