Three reasons to read (and not to read) “A Dirty War”, by Anna Politkovskaya

The Dirty War, by Anna Politkovskaya is a book about the second Russian military campaign in Chechnya that brought to Putin the fame of an effective statesman

Anna Politkovskaya was an independent reporter killed in 2006 in Moscow. She made her name known in the 1990s by investigative reports that exposed government’s corruption and incompetence.

The book of Politkovskaya “A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya” (2003) was published at the tail end of the second Chechen War that resulted in a defeat of separatists and Islamists, and the rule of the Kremlin-backed strongmen Akhmad Kadyrov and later his son Ramzan Kadyrov.

Three reasons to READ the book

  1. This is a solid piece of field reporting from a seasoned journalist. As a native, she could access the areas and locals in Chechnya few foreign reporters could reach. Even her haters struggled to fault her books on factual errors.
  2. The book offers describes a repeatable pattern of interplay that often happens in areas of ethnic unrest between (1) the anti-insurgent troops; (2) insurgents; (3) high-level criminals and corrupt officials with good connections to both parties of the conflict; (4) low-level criminals and (5) civilians who do what they can in order to survive amid the chaos, blood and misery.
  3. The author convincingly shows how the growing disillusionment and apathy on the part of the Russian public, and the steely, ruthless resolve of Putin’s men tilted the second Chechen war in favor of the Kremlin.

Three reasons to SKIP the book

  1. The author openly defied the government’s narrative behind the Chechen war. If you are a convinced Russian nationalist, or share the Kremlin’s point of view on the Chechen insurgency as a ragtag of terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists and gangsters, you find her work very biased.
  2. As a native, Politkovskaya has filled her text with a plethora of details that make it very vivid and riveting for Russian readers, especially from older generations. For foreign audiences though, this may be too overwhelming and confusing.
  3. Don’t read the book if you are too impressionable. You might not find much life’s inspiration in this book. For most people, this would likely be an old, sad tale of greed, cruelty, death and misery.

Quote from the book:

“Yesterday there was a meeting of the villagers. The men decided that we would move to another place and build there. We can’t remain where we are any longer. We must wait for the prefabricated houses that Putin promised. The old Ansalta is gone for ever.”

This was the worst news anyone could have expected. In the southern mountainous area of Daghestan a family home is a potent symbol and someone without their own house is the most wretched of all human beings. A man who cannot put a roof over the heads of his wife and children is no longer a man. Until the last minute the women of Ansalta just like their sisters from the other villages obliterated in the August fighting (Rakhata, Tando and Shadroda) – could not believe their men would take this decision. Too many generations had toiled to build the massive houses now bombed out of existence. Too many tears and too much sweat had been mixed with the foundations of these fortified buildings that, it seemed, would last for ever. And now they had just got up and left, carrying only their children.”

The Dirty War, by Anna Politkovskaya
The Dirty War Anna Politkovskaya 2003 Cover
A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya, by Anna Politkovskaya (2003). Cover

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