Tuesday, March 22, 2016

8 Pieces of Empire

Just like an old Fixx song one book leads to another. In the case of this book, 8 Pieces of Empire: A 20-Year Journey Through the Soviet Collapse by Lawrence Scott Sheets, I found out about it looking through the bibliography of another book. (It ain't easy finding and reading every book printed about Post-Soviet Wars in English!) The author's name was familiar to me because he was mentioned in several other books I read. I knew he was a reporter working in the Caucasus region in the 90's. I found out he was also a long time reporter of Russian news on NPR. If you've listened to NPR in the last decade or two you've certainly heard him report from Russia or thereabouts.

8 Pieces of Empire tells the tale of the demise of the Soviet Union in eight vignettes (the seventh is a bit Hodge-podge and the last is more like a conclusion). Sheets first visited the Soviet Union in the late eighties and spent the better part of two decades there reporting for Reuters and then NPR. The book first describes his experiences in a communal apartment in Leningrad as a student and running into petty criminals/aspiring free market entrepreneurs. Sheets then describes his time in Sukhumi during the fall of the city to Abkhazians, his witness to the refugee crisis in Azerbaijan and his time reporting on the Chechen Wars. The reemergence of Orthodox Christianity and the situation in Uzbekistan/Afghanistan are also recorded. Additionally, he includes bits on Chernobyl, Eduard Shevardnadze's downfall, the Russian Far East and the attack on School No. 1 in Beslan. He concludes the book with a return to his communal apartment in St. Petersburg. The book succeeds in impressing upon its readers the magnitude of the Soviet downfall. It reads very quickly. The conclusion is a bit of a letdown. After stating his reluctance to do so, Sheets reveals a bit of what it was like to report on a single topic for twenty years and the toll it took on his mental health, but this part was far too short. Despite this small complaint, the book is definitely worth checking out. If you're like me you'll finish it quickly, wishing Sheets wrote eight books instead of one and realizing he probably never will.

Lawrence Sheets

Monday, March 21, 2016

2nd Battle of Grozny

Although the First Chechen War (and perhaps the 2nd) is mostly thought of now (in wargaming circles, anyway) as an urban war, fought in the mud and snow in camouflage coats and knit caps, etc. this isn't the case for the entire war. The first Battle of Grozny and the third during the second war were fought in winter, but the second Battle of Grozny was fought in August. It was a bit harder to track down pictures of this second fight, the battle the Chechens definitively won, but I eventually did come across plenty. Images of the battle show rebels with less gear, no knit caps, no coats and some with a fair amount of civilian clothing. I assume those with less camouflage are fighters who came out the shadows to join those who came in from the mountains, but really knows? To represent these combatants I went with RH Models STS figures. Originally they were STS, shirt-trousers-sandals, but now with some green stuff they are STS, shirt-trousers-shoes. I also sculpted a prayer cap for one guy, some shoulder straps for two guys and pant side pockets for three. I think these dudes will look great mixed with some others I have painted. Those with green headbands should work for Abkhazians and those without any "green" could be used for most other conflicts I'm interested.

Soon I'll paint/mod up a similar batch with guys using RPGs and PKMs. I also have plans to do a batch like this with various headgear, panama caps, baseball caps, forage caps, boonie hats, prayer caps, etc. It took a bit to sculpt the shoes, so I'm taking a breather for now, however. Next up is some pro-Russian fighters for the Transnistria War.




Chechens fighting in Grozny (August, 1996).

Chechen rebels in Grozny (August, 1996).

Chechen fighter resting in Grozny (August 14th, 1996).

Chechen aiming RPG in Grozny (August 23rd, 1996).

Chechens dancing at end of first Chechen War in Grozny (August 23rd, 1996).

Chechen raising first in celebration after ceasefire in Grozny (September, 1996).

Pro-Russian separatists, Dubossary, Moldova (June, 1992).

Abkhazian fighters, Sukhumi, Georgia (June, 8th, 1992).

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Claws of the Crab

Last night I wrapped up reading Claws of the Crab: Georgia and Armenia in Crisis by Stephen Brook. It had taken me a while ... work's been busy.

The author was invited to Georgia and Armenia during the early 1990's in an attempt to increase Western business interest in these states. His hosts agreed to show him around. Coincidentally he happened to be based in Tbilisi, Georgia while Gamsakhurdia's presidency was falling apart and civil war loomed and traveling throughout Armenia while the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh was in full swing. Obviously this would be bad experience for most, but a good one for a journalist and an fascinating read for someone like myself. Brook devotes the first have of his travelogue to Georgia. He is brought to different tourist sites, samples Georgian wine and food and somehow manages to get a press pass in Tbilisi. He details his encounters with pro-Gamsakhurdia and opposition leaders. His book is a great witness to prelude to 1991-1992 uprising in Tbilisi. Unfortunately, he leaves the state just before the street battle intensifies and culminates in the ouster of Gamsakhurdia. Brook then travels to Armenia to tour more sites, meet with businessmen and unsuccessfully try to meet with various politicians. His descriptions of the situation in Armenia, corruption, brain drain, inflation and hardship are satisfying, but slanted. At the end of the book Brook travels back to Georgia and describes the conclusion of the revolt (and somewhat predicts Georgia's future struggles). Finally, Brooks makes his way to Karabakh for a weekend and details the on the ground situation there. Although this book is definitely not for everyone, I was very pleased to find it. At this point it is the best book I've found for this time period.

Monday, March 7, 2016


Last week I finished my latest dozen minis. It took a few days to find time to take pictures of them. Here they are!

First up are six examples of bearded guys with headbands. I painted all except the guy in VSR camouflage (middle, second row - he's done as a Chechen) as Abkhazians. I haven't seen any examples or heard of a 50mm mortar being used during the Post-Soviet Wars, but it is plausible; every other Soviet weapon system seems to have been used in some manner or other. My favorite guy is wearing the sun bunny (green KLMK) shirt over bi-color camouflage paints. I'll have to crank out a few more of these guys with AK's and some as command at some point.



Abkhazians holding prisoners during attack on Parliament Building, Sukhumi, September, 1993.

Abkhazians in village of Eshera (November 13th, 1992).

Abkhazians resting in Sukhumi on September 29th, 1993.

Chechens sitting on Russian APC during withdrawal of Russian forces (August 26th, 1996).

Next are four miniatures sporting balaclavas. I had a few of these done, but wanted more.


Opposition fighter takes a break (Tbilisi, Georgia; December 27th, 1991).

Chechen fighters defending in Urus Martan, February, 1995.

Chechen rebels meeting with Internal Affairs Minister during crisis in Pervomayskaya (January 11th, 1996).

Last are two guys with head wraps. These are done using RH Models multi-purpose figures with arab headdress. Originally they were sculpted with a double cord around the top. I chopped this off and sculpted a headband of sorts from green stuff on both of these. I'm not sure if Chechen fighters wore such head wraps because of their Muslim faith or just because they were practical, but I have quite a few pictures of rebels wearing such headgear during the Second Battle of Grozny (August, 1996).


Chechen fighters with captured Russians in Grozny (August, 1996).