Thomas de Waal

Thomas de Waal has been covering the Caucasus and Chechnya since 1994, as Caucasus editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London. He is researching a book on the Black Sea.

Diary: War in the North Caucasus

Thomas de Waal, 3 November 2005

The Russian government has been saying for three years that the war in Chechnya is over. They are half-right. Most of the checkpoints are gone. Where Grozny’s presidential palace once stood there is now a grandiose fountain. A huge statue of Akhmad Kadyrov, the president the Russians imposed on Chechnya who was assassinated in May 2004, stands in the main square. There are traffic jams...

No Loaded Guns in Class: Kurban Said

Thomas de Waal, 19 October 2000

Oil production in Baku on the Caspian Sea began in the late 19th century and within a few years the city had become the wealthiest in the Russian Empire, producing more oil than the United States. Immigrants flooded in, turning a desert town in Azerbaijan with a population of 14,500 in 1872 into a metropolis of 143,000 inhabitants by 1903. The newcomers included Nobels and Rothschilds and...

Dun-Coloured Dust: Russia’s war

Thomas de Waal, 15 July 1999

At the heart of Vasily Grossman’s great novel of the Second World War, Life and Fate, is an unforgettable depiction of a house cut off from the frontline in Stalingrad. A group of soldiers and civilians are stranded in no man’s land, linked to their comrades-in-arms only by a narrow underground passageway and forced to fight off an onslaught on three sides. They are so close to enemy lines that they can hear the voices of the German infantrymen swarming around them. Their chances of surviving are virtually nil and, after ingeniously defying death for two months, both house and inhabitants are duly obliterated by a bomb.

Alexander Korzhakov, Boris Yeltsin’s former chief bodyguard, operated out of a poky cubby-hole in the Kremlin with room for barely anyone but himself. Vyacheslav Kostikov, Yeltsin’s press secretary, was given a grand office once occupied by the first Soviet President, Mikhail Kalinin. Both men were alter egos of the Russian President, but it was Korzhakov, his darker other half who hatched dirty plots to keep him in power and was spectacularly sacked when the plotting got out of hand, who in his time wielded the power. Kostikov belonged to that part of the Russian intelligentsia which supported Yeltsin as a ‘democrat’ from 1989 onwards – by ‘democrat’ they meant a politician of sufficient strength to defeat the Communist Party. Both men have now written their memoirs: they are highly partisan and Korzhakov’s in particular is a study in sour grapes. But they are essential reading if one wants to understand the nature of post-Communist power in Russia and the character of ‘the boss’.’‘

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