Do the Russians Want War?
Extract from ‘The Unstoppable Tragedy: The Second Russian Civil War’ by Peter Hodges
Enjoying the brief and doomed Russian Summer, Rokhlin’s forces trudged through the subArctic as June turned to July, onwards to Urengoy. They stood at the top of the great Eurasian landmass, having marched almost from Kazakhstan. They had seen more of Russia in their one trip than most Russians ever would in their lifetimes. Even the most traveled Russians knew little of the unfathomable size and maddening emptiness of Siberia. Like the first Slavic settlers who came here hundreds of years before, Rokhlin’s forces had to travel almost entirely on foot. Despite their supply situation being as good as it could be, with Western ships even going as far as to deliver food from over the Kara Sea, the mental strain on the troops had been intense. One veteran of Roklin’s March remembered ‘I never thought I would prefer combat, but to go day after day, maybe seeing a new town every week and finding the same story told in different ways, of starvation, madness and killings, I was desperate to find someone to blame for this. Someone to kill. But in Siberia, there was no drama, only tragedy and loneliness.” Others fell in love with Siberia, seeing the relative calm and tranquility of the countryside to be a beautiful contrast to the industrialized slaughter west of the Urals. “I couldn’t help but feel,” said another, “that we had found the true home of the Russians. That it wasn’t in the imitations of Europe of St. Petersburg, or the industrial prisons of Chelyabinsk, but in the wilds of Siberia, where humans had forgotten.”
Rokhlin’s movements had still been fantastic news for Lebed’s forces, cemented on July 14th, when the Executive Outcomes (EO) mercenary group seized the city of Surgut. Hiring mercenaries was initially controversial among Lebed’s advisors, who feared it would make him look like a foreign puppet. However, Lebed was insured against this by being a hero to Russian nationalists and thus given some benefit of the doubt. The second was that it helped give him a propaganda victory by ruling out conscription among his territory, which was great for stability and reducing tensions with refugees who feared they’d be shipped in to be sent off to die in the Siberian woods. Among one of the unexpected benefits of having a South African mercenary squad was that when the NSF loyalists saw Black soldiers they often ran in terror because they thought the Americans had arrived. The city of Surgut was already in the midst of a civil conflict between the NSF loyalists and the mafia, whose alliance had broken down as the mercenaries began moving in. Playing on the ignorance of the two parties, EO managed to send in infiltrators to the city to see where the strategic gateways were located. The local combatants thought that EO’s troops were primarily South African, but actually despite being a South African firm, the group had recruited a significant number of people from Ex-Communist European states. Many were trying to escape the poverty that fell upon them after the USSR’s collapse - given that EO was promising a $3k a month salary, one can see why it was appealing to East Europeans mired in poverty. Others had gotten a thrill from war that they’d never known anywhere else. Some had ironically fought the South Africans in Angola as advisors to the local Communist government and were now fighting alongside some of the people who fought in the Apartheid army. Others had served in Afghanistan or fought in Nagorno-Karabakh. Using their experience and organisation, they seized the chokepoints and sent in the main army, which included tanks found in storage around Tomsk. Surgut was taken in a single day. Its capture would prove particularly helpful as Surgut was the biggest port along the Ob, and most importantly the ‘Oil Capital of Russia’. As Rokhlin had cleared out the Ob, there was now a clear route out to open water. Lebed liquidated any ownership of the oil production facilities, almost invariably NSF cronies who were often liquidated themselves, and started dishing shares out to his Western backers. Lebed had carried out his end of the deal, and now his backers knew he was the real deal, as well as EO. The amount of money the firm was making due to the operation made them almost ‘too big to fail’, and despite the history of the firm, the bribe money it could now pay out ensured they had more than enough friends inside the new ANC government to ensure the firm’s survival. Executive Outcomes’s founder Eeben Barlow even sat close to Mandela himself at South Africa’s victory in the Rugby World Cup Final that June. EO would quickly grow to be the world’s largest private military contractor, working everywhere from Colombia to New Guinea.
Further mercenary work was afoot in Novosibirsk, where a former member of the KGB’s crack Alpha Group Viktor Karpukhin had been called for business by EO. Famous and infamous for his work in Afghanistan in killing the Soviet Puppet President Amin after he’d outlived his usefulness and gaining Hero of the Soviet Union status, EO told Karpukhin that they’d been hired out by Western governments to find one of only two surviving Smallpox samples in the world, hidden in Koltsovo in Novosibirsk and destroy it before it spread and reintroduced Smallpox to the world. Unsure about EO or Western governments but believing in Lebed, Karpukhin called up fellow retired Alpha Group veterans in Belarus, Ukraine and Lebed’s Russia to go on one last mission. Landing in the dead of night in June, the group showed why they were the Soviet Union’s finest, slaying their former (or sometimes even current) countrymen as nonchalantly as they did to the Afghans. In the meantime, the nearby NSF paramilitary force that kept order in the town was attacked by a separate group of mercenaries, led by one of the most legendary fighters on Earth. Swashbuckling French mercenary ‘The Warrior King’ Bob Denard, whose exploits in Africa were so vast that no one book could contain them (though getting shot through the head after running into North Koreans in Benin after trying to storm the presidential palace and surviving while marrying the woman who nursed him deserves highlight), had pulled every contact he had to join the most monumental war since WW2. A man built for war, he laughed maniacally as they came under fire from the paramilitaries. His comrades were his admirers and friends from the French special services, many less than half his age, who found themselves laughing alongside him. As Karpukhin grabbed the sample and told headquarters that the mission was a success, they headed back to the helicopter. Everyone in Denard’s group returned except for Denard himself. For a few minutes they waited, as paramilitaries began to swarm the chopper’s location and the craft was forced to deploy miniguns to defend itself, the sample itself grazed by a paramilitary bullet. Finally, just as the helicopter was about to leave, Denard waddled back with two wounds to his legs, getting out successfully in what would be his last mission. When asked why he had taken so long, he explained that he saw the town’s main Lenin bust and went there to destroy it since ‘I’ve fought that fucker all my life’, causing a delay in his return. Regardless, the sample was appropriately destroyed, and the world’s governments breathed a sigh of relief that Smallpox would remain dead.
Rokhlin by contrast had those true to Lebed’s flags, with almost no mercenaries whatsoever. They followed the Tiger Flag of Siberia, Lebed’s attempt to build a Siberian powerbase that he hoped to use to eventually take over the rest of Russia. Their first major challenge would be Urengoy, a city completely in the hands of the Mafia. The NSF officials' decaying, often decapitated bodies had been deposited on the road to Novy Urengoy as a warning. Despite this, Rokhlin had no choice but to keep going. Finally, on July 13th, he met a representative of the Bratva (Mafia) in the town of Pangody. They attempted to sell their loyalties to the Siberian government in return for their keeping their seats of authority in the gas factories of Urengoy to continue making unimaginable profits for the rest of their lives. Rokhlin responded by grabbing the representative, beating him with his pistol and personally dragging him to the local jail. ‘We are not dealing with soldiers, paramilitaries, or even terrorists,” he told his men that night, “only criminals. And in the new Russia, we won’t have criminals, let alone be ruled by them!” Fired up by their first chance of serious combat, Rokhlin’s forces battled the Mafia’s northern kingdom, clearing out the cities of Novy Urengoy and Urengoy by the end of July to surprisingly high casualties - the Mafia were no fools. At the same time, the Mafia ultimately decided not to blow up the gas fields, saying it would ‘violate business ethnics’. What ethics could allow the summary execution of resistors to their rule but keep their property intact was a mystery to all observers, but it at least made the Mafia seem one of the saner parties in Russia at the time. Rokhlin also made himself look reasonable, throwing the Mafia leaders into jail rather than give them summary executions, as he and Lebed did for the NSF’s leadership if they didn’t heed the first warning to surrender.
Their next and most important location was incoming: Norilsk. Norilsk was the world’s most important producer of nickel, and reopening it to the wider world would mean global economic relief, if however small. To get there they needed to go through the port of Dudinka, which was Norilsk’s lifeline to the outer world. However, the Winter was already closing in closer than many would like, and Lebed’s backers wanted Norilsk back online as soon as possible. Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Viktor Karpukhin was given his next job in tandem with Rokhlin, the idea being to bypass Dudinka by the only means available: air. The pair would plan an air assault into Norilsk, with Karpukhin seizing the Norilsk airfield and Rokhlin’s men landing their planes in the captured field top overwhelm the support. This was a borderline suicide mission; if they failed they would be completely cut off and executed by the mafiosa who ran the town, but Lebed’s backers demanded results, so away it went. On August 21st 1995, the Alpha Group, engulfed amidst the Aurora Borealis, stealthily swept across the sky toward the Arctic town of Norilsk. Unfortunately for them, the Aurora had blown their cover earlier than anticipated, causing a full-fledged firefight between the Alpha Group and the Mafia at Norilsk airport. In the ensuing battle, half of the Alpha Group would perish, but not without taking several times as many casualties on the mafiosa. Knowing it was now or never, Rokhlin ordered the planes to land at the airport, despite there still being a firefight. Under heavy fire, the planes descended onto the airport, running over some of the Mafiosa on the runway. One of the transport planes lost an engine after a rocket strike on the way down and fell upon the control tower, ironically wiping out most of the Mafiosa on scene. Disembarking, the Siberian forces quickly overwhelmed the Mafia, their heavy weapons able to quickly bring the situation to heel. Karpukhin himself was hit by the Mafia and would slowly bleed out at the airport. He died staring at the peaceful green and blue of the Aurora above him, while the orange and red flames of war tore the airport to shreds beside him.
Norilsk would be cleared in the next few days, as resisting Mafiosa that retreated into the mines simply had the routes behind them shut, entombing them alive. The starvation was, to quote Rokhlin, “Enough to horrify any country in Africa”. The reason so many Mafiosa existed in the town was that it was simply the only way to be sure of food - even then not being a guarantee. As one survivor recalled, “If you were a man and you didn’t join the Mafia, you probably starved. If you were a woman and you didn’t prostitute yourself for food, you also probably starved - they didn’t even prostitute for money, literally just crumbs of bread in some cases. If you were a kid, you just starved. The Mafia would punish theft of their food by slowly forcefeeding people’s own body parts to them. They’d start with cutting off your ears then put it on a plate saying they’d shoot your family if you didn’t eat it, next were your fingers, toes, until you’d die from sheer pain.”  The fact that so many were in the Mafia in Norilsk forced some level of amnesty among the population. On August 24th, the city of Dudinka announced their surrender to the Siberian government, the local Mafiosa having been promised a lenient jail term in return for ensuring the railway from Norilsk was intact. Threats of blackmail against Kaliningrad officials increased Western pressure on Lebed to make the deal. With Dudinka’s liberation, commercial ships with PMC support began to load the nickel of Norilsk upon their ships in the next few weeks, cut quickly short by Winter, though the airport took up the slack in terms of transferring raw goods. By the end of September, the entirety of the Yenesei River up to the Arctic and down to Igarka was in Lebed’s hands. At the same time, the entirety of the Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty Mansi regions were declared secure, as most of the local towns had seen the writing on the wall and declared themselves for Lebed, killing or imprisoning their local NSF officials. Order was slowly but surely returning to Siberia, despite the indescribable famine that had fallen upon the region that had already left millions dead. That September also saw Lebed begin his latest push to the east, following the route of the BAM all the way to the Pacific, now pouring his troops over the Tom River to battle both the NSF loyalists and the separatists on the other side. The next stop on the way was Krasnoyarsk. However, the separatists were not about to go into the night, as Tuvan troops under Shoigu began to prepare for the next conflagration in Russia. At the same time, the Mongolians finally decided the time to make a move in Buryat was now.
Extract from ‘One Soldier’s War in Russia’ by Arkady Babchenko
I know someone’s going to die. I don’t even care anymore. I was so used to it that morality didn’t even enter the picture for me. Whoever was going to die deserved it as much as the last few thousand corpses I’d seen - if I tried to intervene, the only change would be that Vladimir shot me as well.
Vladimir turned with deliberate eyes, as motivated in his job as the day I first saw him.
“We caught this man trying to desert.”
They dragged in the sorriest sight I’d seen that day - a man so old that he could barely walk. He had false teeth, spectacles and a quivering body. Only his eyes seemed capable of quick movement.
Vladimir turned his gaze to the deserter the same way he faced Surovikin and me - with absolute coldness. I’d never seen Vladimir get mad, nor even heard it. I’d heard all sorts of rumours about Surovikin above what I’d known for a fact - that he’d raped a woman and strangled her to death in Chechnya, that he’d permanently crippled a subordinate officer by beating him close to death with a wooden chair, and many more.  Vladimir was somehow scarier because he didn’t get mad, or ruthless, he simply shot people through the head as nonchalantly as if he was putting his socks on.
“Is this true, comrade?”
The old man looked down despondently.
“I’m sorry, Commisar, I can’t do it again. I already fought in the First Great Patriotic War, I cannot fight the Second.”
“Ah?” said the Commissar. “A veteran of the war against Hitler?”
“Yes, sir. I fought so that the Russian people would live. I fought that our children, no, all the children of the world would never have to know what war was again. I fought to keep Russia safe and free. Seeing this country destroyed by Fascism again, I just had to help, but …”
“These are Russians, sir. I know they are Fascists, I know we have to win, but to kill my fellow countrymen, to kill the kids that I told myself all my life were alive because of what me and my friends did, the kids that I took joy in knowing for years of my life would never go through what I did. I told my children, and my grandchildren that we could never have a war in Russia again. Not a land war, not a nuclear war, no war. But I’m here. Like I’ve been dragged inside a nightmare. Like my grandchildren have been plunged into a nightmare. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand knowing all the work I did, my friends who died, the lives that were lost, that it was all in vain. Moscow is gone. The Fascists run Leningrad after we starved for a thousand days to make sure they’d never have it for one. The Union is gone. Ukraine and Belarus are gone. Even Siberia is gone. Why did we even bother fight Hitler if this was what it would all come to anyway? Why? Why?! Do the Russians really want war after -?”
Vladimir shot the old man in the head. He had survived Hitler, Stalin, the Cold War, even Barkashov, but the one who would finally kill him would be some middling KGB goon who would forget the old man’s existence by the end of the day.
Still holding the now cadaver, the two horrified men that were perhaps a quarter, maybe a fifth, of the old man’s age had evidently not been on the battlefield long. A part of me wondered why they were so upset, given that when they inevitably died in a few days or weeks they wouldn’t remember it.
Sensing that this execution required at least some further justification, Vladimir turned and looked around all men present.
“Soldiers of the Soviet Republic, it’s an entirely unfortunate event, what just happened. This man was a hero, who fought bravely in the First Great Patriotic War. Yet when duty calls, it does not discriminate. All must serve the motherland, no matter how tired or unable you feel you are. Just because you served your country once does not preclude you from serving it again. You may indeed have to fight future wars as well. Perhaps against the Fascists in Belarus and Ukraine, or the West itself. You will need to stay as firm as today, for all the days of your life. You must never fall for the sentimentality that the veterans of the first Great Patriotic War did. That is just the weakness that got us to this point. The Russians must always want war, whether they like it or not. We will never be liked, but we can always be feared. And we’ll never be feared if we keep singing ‘Do the Russians want War?’ - I’d sooner have you sing the songs of enemies. They’ll be our friends one day, but a traitor can never be anything but a traitor. If we shoot every enemy but let the traitors go, we will lose. If we shoot every traitor, then no enemy will matter. We will only win this war if peace is not an option.”
I zoned out. I cared even less than usual. I didn’t even care at all anymore. After I’d realised what the shipment they brought into the warzone was, I stopped wondering about what would be left of Russia by the end of this war, and simply accepted that there would be nothing. The war was about to escalate again - I already knew the ending.
As I zoned out, the memory slowly swirled at the back of my mind. How did that song go again?
“Not only at their country’s call
did Russian soldiers fight and fall;
they died that men from ev’ry shore
might live without the fear of war.
Ask those who fought, and those erased,
ask those who at the Elbe you embraced.
These monuments are only for
to show if Russians long for war.”
I was grateful I was already so dead inside, that I could not feel the pain of knowing how fucking far we’d fallen. How we’d let down everyone who died in that war, and all those who survived it. How we let down the armless, legless survivors who came to our schools to show us what war meant. They showed their limp sleeves where their arms should have been with bright smiles on their faces because they were happy their suffering was given meaning. And we’d flushed that meaning down the toilet. The classrooms they warned us in were probably already a hole of shattered glass and brick. If any of our children survived this conflict, I hoped they’d never forgive us.
Whether you felt the night or the day was better in what was once Moscow was up to you. Some preferred not tripping all over the place, often over corpses. Some were simply grateful not to see the corpses. Unfortunately, when the flares soared into the sky, you could still see all the corpses, more accurately what was left of them. Bodies without heads and heads without bodies. Limbs dangling from barbed wire and the only form of life being the worms and insects that crawled through where their eyes used to be to devour these barely pubescent boys, from the inside out. You often heard jokes about worm food, but no one joked when they saw what it meant right in front of them. It made me hate the Fascists even more, as those were their flares.
It was their turn for an assault, which they’d prepared for by flattening the bricks on our side of the river to powder, since there were no buildings left to shell. Hiding in the mangled trenches and sewers, sometimes literally up to our knees in human shit, we simply deduced their distance from the sound of their roars. We didn’t dare look - even to try stick a periscope over the trench was near certain death. The only relief was that the gas masks were helping keep out the smell somewhat. Of course, they’d be no use against nerve agents, but I didn’t particularly care at this point. I had long since accepted and actively preferred some form of death to facing this indescribable calamity every day. I had no reason to be alive. No sweetheart at home. No dreams of fatherhood. Nothing. My will to live had been stripped to the bone, that bone simply being the instinctive movements one takes without thinking. The way we jump back from a sudden moving object, or cover our ears at a large noise. That was the only thing that kept me going now. Evidently, Vladimir had his own reasons, as he was the only one in a full hazmat suit. Admittedly, it might have simply been because there were too few to go around and only the ‘important people’ got sufficient protection.
‘Comrades,’ said Vladimir, ‘when I pull the switch, wait three seconds then raise your guns and fire! Three, two, one!’
He pulled the switch. We could hear both a thud and a woof into the air. Before the woof even settled we could hear the most agonized screaming I had heard in the whole conflict. I had heard the scream of those who’d lost their legs, lost their eyes, lost their children, lost their parents, but the screaming from VX was almost a scientifically perfected torture. One could almost hear them rip their lungs to shreds by pure exertion in those few seconds. When it was finally our turn to raise our heads, we slammed our guns onto the rubble and prepared to shoot anything five centimetres or fifty miles in front of us. Instead, nothing. The only thing we saw were a fresh pile of corpses along the rubble. Not a sound came from them. They had died already, their voices sudden arrest in some cases as chilling as the sudden silence of a man screaming as he plummets to death makes upon impact.
Everyone was as astonished as me. Everyone was bewildered at this new weapon of war we could soon rely on. But while everyone stared at the corpses, I caught something quite different. I was caught by the moon, shining over the remains of Moscow - the first time I’d clearly seen it in months due to the clouds of dust whipped into the air. And I could just about see it’s rays dance over the bloody river, a reddish silver fluttering amidst the cadavers and rubble. It was the first time in months that I thought I saw something remotely beautiful in former Moscow, even as it did its best to regale me with the stories of humanity’s evil. I remembered ‘Moscow Nights’ by Vladimir Troshin. For the first time, I could see what he meant. How even with the city itself gone, there was still something magical buried amidst the corpses and ruins. I imagined families walking along the river, old couples buying each other flowers as a surprise, friends laughing together. Children on their first day of school, first kisses on the playground, first love and first dates. Happy marriages, happy honeymoons and bittersweet funerals. In an instant, I imagined those things eight million times, one for everyone who used to live here. Eight million lives with eight million memories, stories and adventures. That was what made up the lifeblood of the deep magic of Moscow. That deep magic still barely eked out its agonizing survival, perhaps only as a ghost, even after the city itself was long dead, like the silent corpses ahead. Was this what you meant, Troshin, when you sang ‘Not even a whisper’?
My ‘comrades’ wanted to cheer, but they knew they couldn’t. We were simply relieved that we were going to live a little longer, but we knew that our demise was now likely even more horrifying. We had unleashed the demon of chemical weaponry. We had ours, the Fascists had theirs. Soon the remains of Moscow would be bathed in chemical weapons. And not even that deep magic would survive much longer.
 A form of punishment from Haiti and Sudan at the time.
 These rumours exist in reality.