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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

General Manilov's 'Dead Souls' Math

Nikolai Gogol could not have foreseen that his famed "Dead Souls" character Manilov f whose name has become synonymous with dreamer f would one day spring to life to don a star-studded military uniform.

Just like his fictional namesake, Colonel General Valery Manilov, the 61-year-old first deputy chief of the General Staff, can't help abandoning reality for the world of fantasy now and then as he reports on the size of enemy forces in the Kremlin's "anti-terrorist operation" in Chechnya.

Gogol's Manilov simply let his estate fall into disrepair as he sat and fantasized about the ways he would beautify it. But Colonel General Manilov's dreams are offered regularly to the public as information about the war: A simple comparison of the data he has presented at a dozen or more briefings held in Moscow since fighting began last August reveals glaring inconsistencies.

For example, Manilov told a Nov. 11 briefing that "the manpower of the entire group of terrorists of varying sorts can be put at 5,000."

Eight months later, however, Manilov tripled his estimates of the number of Chechen rebels fighting federal forces in November 1999: "The second stage of the military part of the anti-terrorist operation began. It lasted from Oct. 1 to Nov. 25.

At that stage, some 16,000 to 17,000 bandits remained in bandit formations," the general said at a briefing July 13.

The July 13 briefing exposed another failure by Manilov to keep track of his own statistics. The general said there was an "estimated" total of 10,000 to 11,000 rebels in January 2000.

However, on Jan. 28, Manilov confirmed a reporter's calculation, saying the number of rebels killed was 10,000 and the number left was 15,000.

At the same July 13 briefing, Manilov placed the initial total of "bandits" as of August 1999 at 25,000 to 26,000.

But speaking to reporters Nov. 11, Manilov said there had been some 3,000 rebels killed since August and another 5,000 were still pitted against federal forces.

A simple arithmetic calculation indicates Manilov believed there was an initial total of 8,000 "bandits" as of August 1999 f three times less than what he announced at the July 13 briefing.

Furthermore, Manilov told a Dec. 28 briefing that rebels had lost 7,000 men between August and December 1999; in this case, his July 13 data would suggest that only 1,000 rebels remained as of two weeks ago.

Both independent experts and war reporters reached by telephone Tuesday said they were not surprised to hear that Manilov, who has spent most of his military career in public relations, could not keep track of his own figures.

Manilov is "one of the most shameless people" he has ever heard, said Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky, who frequently traveled to Chechnya to cover both the 1994-96 war and the current conflict.

Both Babitsky and Vadim Solovyov, editor of Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, agreed with press reports that Manilov and other generals regularly exaggerate the rebels' casualties.

At the same time, Manilov, who decried civilian losses during NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, has a hard time admitting that there have been casualties among Chechen civilians as a result of federal troops' often indiscriminate fire.

Manilov also massages federal troops' casualty figures, putting them at numbers so low they look improbable for a side that has been on the offensive since August, Solovyov said.

Solovyov's much-respected military affairs weekly was one of the first local newspapers to accuse generals of skewing casualty figures. Solovyov wrote a story in the Jan. 21-27, 2000, issue accusing both the Defense and Interior ministries of underestimating their casualties.

In his story, Solovyov also wrote that there simply would have been no rebels left to fight had federal troops indeed killed 10,000 of them by January 20 00.

The average casualty ratio in wartime is three to four wounded for each man killed, wrote Solovyov, meaning there should have been at least 30,000 rebels wounded if 10,000 had been killed f precisely the maximum rebel manpower cited by army generals before the war began in August.

Both Solovyov and Alexander Pikayev, defense analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said a three-star general like Manilov should have been careful not to contradict himself when speaking to the press.

They noted, however, that generals across the globe toy with casualty rates and trumpet their successes, using what has always been a vital propaganda tool.

Moreover, Manilov has been instrumental in Moscow's efforts to keep public opinion pitted against Chechen rebels, Pikayev said.

Confirmation of this is the fact that the Kremlin has allowed Manilov to remain in active service even though he has already passed the mandatory retirement age of 60.

Unlike the previous Chechen war, army generals f including Manilov f have actually taken pains this time to win favorable coverage of their military campaign by holding regular briefings, he said.

These presentations were especially slanted in the early stages of fighting, and the public largely failed to notice contradictions such as Manilov's in the flood of pro-Kremlin coverage by local media, Pikayev said.

However, the longer the war drags on and the more soldiers get killed, said Pikayev, the more often local media are criticizing authorities for refusing to look for a peaceful solution to the conflict f which increasingly complicates Manilov's public relations efforts.