Rodric Braithwaite, writer and former diplomat, British Ambassador in Moscow (1988-92) about Alexander Kartsev's novel "Silk way".


Aleksandr Kartsev "Silk way"


Alexander Kartsev's novel is a lightly disguised autobiographical account of his service in Afghanistan between August 1986 and October 1988. He was a career officer in Soviet military intelligence - the GRU. By the time he had finished his basic training, the GRU had become increasingly concerned about the lack of good human intelligence in the war in Afghanistan. So they devised a new scheme. They would give young officers eight weeks very intensive medical training. Once in Afghanistan the medical knowledge could be used to gain the confidence of the Afghan villagers and so get a feeling for what they and their clansmen were up to. With a touch of black humour the GRU called it Operation "Medecins sans Frontieres".



Kartsev was posted to a reconnaissance unit operating around Kabul and Bagram. His unit engaged in the raids, ambushes, and house to house searches which were the bread-and-butter tasks of such units.

But Kartsev also met many ordinary Afghans in the villages near to the small outpost which was his home for many long months. He was indeed able to provide them with simple medical services which were otherwise unavailable to them. On one occasion he was kidnapped by a mujaheddin leader who made him cure the man's wounded brother.

But he had another task as well: to act as a courier for a well-placed Afghan agent, "Shafi", who was educated in Japan and Britain, and was acting as a go-between between the Russians and Masud, one of the resistance leaders whom the Russians still hugely admire. Shafi had a daughter Leila, whom Kartsev escorted out to Moscow, so that she could be placed in safety in France, where she still lives. Shafi taught Kartsev eastern medicine and massage. Kartsev turned the knowledge to good use, and now runs a massage practice in Moscow.

Kartsev writes with fluency, humour, and a sharp eye for the telling detail. He has a feeling for the bleak Afghan landscape. Like many other Russians who served there, he also has a genuine admiration for the Afghan people. But his story is not only readable. It is also unusual and important, because it illustrates a side of the war in Afghanistan which has otherwise been little described.

Rodric Braithwaite, writer and former diplomat,


British Ambassador in Moscow (1988-92)




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