Thursday, December 31, 2015

Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Russian and American Perspectives

"The international bestseller soon to be made into a major motion picture ..."

Well that was my joke while reading my latest book. It was hard not to feel like a nerd lugging this one around, but believe it or not I was very excited to start reading it.

As one can imagine, Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Russian and American Perspectives edited by Arbatov, Chayes, Chayes and Olson is a bit "wonkish" and by no means intended for a general audience. The book introduces the conflicts; follows with multiple chapters written by differing scholars covering conflicts and near conflicts in the former Soviet Union followed by a short commentary on each; and concludes with chapters covering multiple policy recommendations. The wars and near-wars covered are North Ossetia/Ingushetia; The Crimean Republic; Moldova and Transnistria; Latvia; Kazakhstan; and Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I didn't read the entire book as some of the near-conflicts don't interest me too much (at leaest right now) and most of the conclusion seemed very dated to me (the volume is copyrighted 1997). I read the parts covering North Ossetia/Ingushetia; Moldova and Georgia. The first two were particularly interesting as the extent of my knowledge wasn't much beyond Wikipedia. I learned a lot of good background information about both and and developed an understanding of the peace process for them (such as it is considering both are still simmering situations). I also enjoying reading about the Georgia/South Ossetia conflict of the early 1990's. The coverage of the war in Abkhazia wasn't too interesting - I've read better elsewhere. Unfortunately, none of the chapters covers the military situation of these conflicts at all. That's not the intent of the book so I can't slight it, but I'm still looking for better coverage of these lesser known wars - I've been spoiled by the copious number of books about the Chechen Wars. Until I find something else stuffy books like this will have to do.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Merry Christmas! Just now I finished two Chechen AA guns I've been working on for a while. This summer I prepped and primed the gunners and then painted them with another batch of minis. This fall I hacked away one of the guns scenic bases. Finally, this winter I sculpted some green stuff sandbags for one of the bases, primed and painted the guns, etc.

RH Models EER2644; WEA44
RH Models EER2644; WEA44 with green stuff sandbags

Here's some pictures I found that inspired me a bit. I suppose when I move on to vehicles a pole mounted Dshk would be a good project.

Chechen AA mounted in a truck, Grozny, December 6th, 1994

Chechens with AA gun (Grozny: January 3rd, 1995)

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Caucasus: An Introduction

Although Thomas de Waal is a bit of scholarly hero of mine I put off reading one of his latest books because of its title The Caucasus: An Introduction. I assumed there wouldn't be much new in it, especially considering it was attempting to cover the entire Caucasus in just over 200 pages. Fortunately, I was wrong on multiple accounts. The book only covers the southern Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and there is quite a bit of good information in it.

The history of Armenia and Azerbaijan is better covered in his more famous book Black Garden, but until this book Waal had not written a book on Georgia. I found these chapters most illuminating. His description of the start of the civil war with Abkhazia was far different that that of Svetlana Chervonnaya's Caucasus: Abkhazia, Georgia and the Russian Shadow. I haven't read enough books about this topic to make my own judgment yet, but Waal's take is far less forgiving of Georgia. I also particularly liked the handful of "sidebars" the book contained, covering topics like Stalin's personal history in the Caucasus, the Greek subculture in Abhkazia and the almost conflict of Ajara. I wish the book covered Zviad Gamsakhurdi and the Zviadists more, but the book is after all just an introduction. The book closed out with 20-30 pages that discussed the recent history of Georgia (at least up until 2010). This section definitely made me want to read up on the short Russo-Georgia war of 2008. It'd be a bit strange to paint up figure for a conflict that only lasted a week, but the mix of US and Russian equipment the Germans used sure would be interesting. Who knows? Perhaps in 2020? Like all of Waal's book I have to recommend this one, especially if one is just started to learn about the region.

Thomas de Waal

Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Birthday :/

My birthday card made by my daughter Hazel (age 5).

Today is my birthday. I took the day off from work to have an all day painting session. My goal was to finish the day with a sore butt and tired hands. As this week wore on I realized I have to do a few errands and chores for Christmas today (wrap presents while the kids were at school). I also agree to go to The Force Awakens (looking forward to that!). This morning I realized that I screwed up the minis I had prepped and primed with spray paint. Ugh. I spent two nights sculpting little bits on them with green stuff, but then neglected to wash off the vaseline and so the primer got all mucked up. Majorly bummed here as I'm going to have to re-sculpt these bits. I'm going to have to take a break today from miniatures. I think spending some time reading will calm me down. Happy Birthday! :/

My to-read book stack. At least one more is on its way ... that's probably always the case.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Full Winter

It has taken me a while, but my last set of miniatures is now complete and on the shelf. I had a lot of fun doing head/hat swaps on these figures and sculpting green stuff bits for them, but it did take some time. Most of the uniforms took twice as long as normal - good coverage with white paint takes me several applications. Finally it took me a few days to apply four layers of baking soda/snow on some of the bases. Now if only I can perfect my picture taking - these pictures came out a bit too fuzzy to me and I'm not happy with the blacks as they appear washed out.

October 12th, 1999: Chechen fighters assembling in Grozny.

For even more variety for my 2nd Chechen war force I painted up two figures with bush hats - somewhat commonly seen during the Fall of 1999. I've also come across the bush hats (and other hats like them) being worn during the 2nd battle for Grozny. I'll have to paint up a few more of these for those guys and perhaps do some head swaps as well.


Pro-Russian defenders of Bendery (July 1st, 1992).

Although I haven't found many pictures of it being used during either Chechen War, I have seen many examples of the one-piece (and sometimes two-piece) KLMK (sun bunny) camouflage suit being worn during ever other Post-Soviet conflict. It seems to have been especially popular with Pro-Russian forces in the Transnistria War. I know I'll want figures with this uniform in all sorts of head gear, equipment and footwear so I started with these two. The bearded guy has a head swap.

RH Models RUSAKH (one with head swap)

Chechens resting in Grozny (December 30th, 1994).

January 4th, 1995: Chechen rebels in Grozny suburbs.

Chechen rebels running during firefight in Grozny - January 25th, 1995.

The first and second battles of Grozny occurred in the winter months so fighters used all manner of uniforms and blankets to blend in with the snow. I'm not up to sculpting blankets on top of minis just yet, but with some green stuff to extend the tops of some RH Model figures I was able to mock up some two piece oversuits. I swapped some heads to give three of these guys knit caps and smoothed out/filled in some of their straps to lessen their equipment. The white paint and snow basing were a pain, but in the end I'm really happy with them.

RH Models RUSSNIBH with head swap; RUSRPGH with head swap; RUSAKBH with head swap


Shamil Basayev delivers watermelon in Daghestan - August 8th, 1999.

Lastly, I modified an RH Models radio guy with a large moslem beard to look like Shamil Basayev during the early part of the Second Chechen War. I cut down the figure's original bald head and added a ranger hat from another guy; added a brush hair for a radio antenna; and sculpted a backpack (the figure originally had a large radio on his back). I wanted to paint the lettering on his headband to be something besides scribbles, but I wasn't able to do so on something so small.

RH Models MOSCOM with hat swap and modified backpack

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Conflict in the Caucasus

When I initially found Conflict in the Caucasus: Abkhazia, Georgia and the Russian Shadow by Svetlana Chervonnaya I was very excited; finally I found a book that covered the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict in depth! I ordered the book and moved it to the top of my reading stack. I was bit sad when I got it to find out that the book only covers the run-up to the war and then pads the rest of the book with a chronology of the entire war and some memorandums. Boo! Starting the book was a bit like starting a series on Netflix that I knew had been cancelled. I knew just as the book started to get good it would be over.

Chervonnaya's coverage of the pre-conflict is an odd read, at times the book is academically analytical and at other times the author is extremely opinionated. I found it worthwhile to read because there is dearth of books out there covering this topic (Wikipedia doesn't cut it). The book introduced me to some interesting characters, especially Vladislav Ardzinba the leader of Abkhazian separatist movement, and helped me understand the motivations of the participants (at least from a pro-Georgian view point). Even at ~140 pages, however, the book could use some editing. About twenty pages are devoted to discussing all of the propaganda put into Russian and Georgian newspapers concerning the run-up - I definitely skimmed this part of the book. Additionally the book assumes the reader has a lot of prior knowledge about Soviet/Russian politics. Sadly, just when the I really started to enjoy the book it was over. For now I'll keep looking for the definitive work on this conflict.

Vladislav Ardzinba (1945-2010)

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Dirty War

Yesterday during a rare, quiet extended reading period I finished reading Anna Politkovskaya's A Dirty War. Anna Politkovskaya (1958-2006) was a Russian reporter who wrote for Novaya Gazeta, became famous for covering the 2nd Chechen War and notorious (in some circles) for exposing Putin's regime. Tragically she was gunned down outside her Moscow apartment in 2006. I'm a bit surprised it took me so long to get to her books.

A Dirty War is a collection of dispatches (articles) Politkovskaya wrote from July 1999 to January 2001. The articles concern all manner of topics related to Chechnya during this time period, but focus on the plight of the Chechen people, especially the refugee crisis, the unending corruption, the senseless violence and the despair. I particularly enjoyed reading her interviews with Russian military personnel and a pair of Chechen fighters. Her style of writing, however, took some getting used to. This book is not a good example of objective journalism. I'm not someone who kids themselves and believes that any journalism is opinion free, but some presentations sound much more slanted than others. Politkovskaya definitely has a point to make with every dispatch. Her interview questions are not the "softballs" American audiences are used to. But despite those complaints I consider the book essential reading for understanding the 2nd Chechen War. Politkovskaya was killed for writing books such as this. I can't help but thinking they deserve to be read.

Anna Politkovskaya

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Set

Happy Thanksgiving! This morning I finished a set of figure I've been having fun with. With this set I used my trusty jeweler's saw and green stuff more than ever before. I even got the chance to base with some snow! Next up is much more winter camouflage, some KLMK camouflage suits, bush hats and a 2nd chechen war Shamil Basayev miniature.

RH Models RUSG10 with head swap; RUSG9 with head swaps (GDRMIL)

RH Models RUSG15A; RUSG9

A fair number of Chechen fighters can be seen wearing Russian greatcoats in pictures of the first battle of Grozny (winter, 1994-1995). I found one example of a fighter wearing such a coat during the 2nd Chechen war (he became a good reason to swap on a pilotka side cap). RH Models makes these with helmets and fur hats. I decided to swap heads of some of the figures, remove straps from others and make some sort of blue civilian coat with another for variety. The bareheaded and helmeted guys will also make good Georgian fighters. I wasn't entirely sure of what color to use for Russian greatcoats so I painted some more gray and others more brown. I'm particularly fond of the running guys. These guys really look like they are under fire to me.

Chechens in the back of a truck, Grozny (December 13th, 1994).

Chechens fighting near presidential palace, Grozny (January, 1995).

Rebel fighters gather in Grozny, January 3rd, 1995.

Chechen fighters retreating from Grozny, Alkhan-Kala, February, 2000.

RH Models MULTBUSHAK with head swap (RUSAKBH); RUSBARSQU with head swap and extended pants

I've seen a few images with Chechen fighters wearing the Soviet bush hat, but it is infrequent. I've also seen it used a bit in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. For the sake of variety I created this figure with a head swap. In my mind this guy is an Abkhazian fighter. I can't make out the clothes in the Abkhazian below so I went with the camouflage scheme worn by the Chechen in a truck below.

The more pictures I look at of fighters involved in Post-Soviet conflicts the more cases of body armor I see being worn. Usually it is 6b3 armor or a later variety, but RH Models only has a 6b2 style available, so I decided to use two of those figures for Chechens - 6b2 is a bit anachronistic, but it is not too bad. I gave a head swap to one (the guy with a knit cap) and extended the pants of the other (so his pants looked more like baggy winter camo). I also removed the sleeve pockets of both figures. At some point I might try my hand at sculpting 6b3+ body armor, but right now that's a bit beyond my skills. The figure with white winter camo got my first snow basing. To make snow I used baking powder (sodium bicarbonate). I tried using Woodland Scenics snow, but I didn't like the look of it for the 20mm figures. Handy baking soda came out much better after four applications! :/

December 20th, 1992 - Abkhazian fighters on an APC.

Chechen fighters celebrate in front of presidential palace, Grozny (January, 1995).

January 1995 - Chechen rebels in Grozny.

Chechen fighter taking bread in Grozny suburbs, March 1st, 1995.

6b series of body armor, left to right, 6b2, 6b3, 6b4 and 6b5

RH Models WEA22; RUSSPOTV; RUS22B with head swap and extended pants

Above is my Chechen 9K111 Fagot anti-tank team (also called an AT-4). To make the prone figure I did a head swap and I extended and fattened his pant legs a bit with some green stuff. I wanted a look that was more casual than the original figure. I know they are not popular with wargamers, but personally I like prone figures. I wish there were more of them. I haven't seen any photos of Chechens using this missile system, but I have found several photos of Russians confiscating reloads for them. Based on these photos I painted the missile launching tube mustard.

Russian paratroopers confiscating a Fagot reload tube at the cement factory in Chiri-Yurt. (May 5th, 1995)
RH Models MOSCOM with hat swap (RUSAKBH)

This figure represents my first attempt at making a personality from the Chechen Wars (I've got a handful of others in mind), Shamil Basayev. One of the pictures that motivated me is below. I think this figure will work pretty well for the 1st Chechen War as well as the wars in Abkhazia and Nargono-Karabakh (he was involved in both of those too). To get the beard and the hat I did my first hat swap - I'm really pleased with the results and I'll definitely be trying more of these soon. Now I feel skilled enough to do the caps with beards I have in my head (especially forage and baseball caps for late 2nd war insurgents) as well as some backwards baseball caps.

Shamil Basayev speaking with press during Budyonnovsk hostage crisis, June 17th, 1995.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Chienne de Guerre

My reading of books about the wars in Chechnya has shifted slightly to books about the people of Chechnya and their struggles. To that end I read Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya by Anne Nivat.

Chienne de Guerre, originally written in French, tells the story of French female reporter traveling through war torn Chechnya during the early part of the second war (late 1999 to late 2000). Nivat was able to remain undetected for almost a year, crossing the border with Ingushetia numerous times, by posing as a Chechen civilian. The book details her encounters with many Chechen civilians and some Russian soldiers. Nivat shows journalism at its best - she describes the most salient parts of her meetings and although she went to great (dangerous) lengths to do her reporting she doesn't dwell on her own heroics one bit. Fortuitously she is located in Alkhan-Kala when a large body of Chechen fighters passes through after their breakout from Grozny. She even walks in on Khassan Baiev (the famous Chechen surgeon and author) amputating Shamil Basayev's leg! When Nivat is eventually rounded up and kicked out of Chechnya her treatment by the Russians is surprisingly gentle. The epilogue briefly describes two return visits, one officially with Russian soldiers and the other incognito in which she interviews Aslan Maskhadov. The books is definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Inbetween working on some conversions I'm really excited about - lots of green stuff, squadron putty and head swaps - I've been working on a few supply dumps. I made one a few weeks back that I was happy with so I decided to add a few more to my collection. The boxes are from a great Black Dog set. For extras I cut out two AK's from two different RH Models (Rolf's cool piles) and added two RPG bags from a 4 pack of them Rolf sells. For one of the RPG bags I added some green stuff straps. I debated cutting off an RPG round from some of my figures for more bits, but in the end I couldn't do it - maybe some day.

Black Dog T72026; RH Models HEMAK47 & HEMAK74

Black Dog T72026; RH Models STOWrpgbag

Black Dog T72026

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


This morning I finished four casualty markers/terrain pieces I had been working on. They are RH Models CASW set (casualties with Caucasian heads). To make them fit my period of choice a bit better I swapped some heads and added some extras. All four had bare heads, one had a miscast hand so I added a helmet in his hand (out of the couple hundred RH Models figures I've bought I think that's the first miscast). The two helmets and fur hat heads are from RH Models as well. The gas tank is from Sgt's Mess. Below is a picture I used for jerry can inspiration.

RH Models CASW with head swap

RH Models CASW with head swap; Sgt's Mess GM16

January, 1992: Tbilisi

Monday, November 2, 2015

Stripes and Patterns

Here's another batch of early war Chechen fighters I painted up last week and finished basing this morning. For this second batch I decided to go with more stripes and such. I'm very pleased with the results. At some point I'll do some more lightly equipped figures with RPG's, RPK's and SVD's, but for now I'm moving on to some different things. I also put two shotgun guys in this batch ... just for fun!

RH Models EER2W

RH Models EER2W