This riveting account reveals the secret corners of our supposedly flat world: black markets where governments are never seen but still spend outrageous amounts of money. Journalist Matt Potter tells the story of Yuri and his crew, a gang of Russian military men who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union found themselves without work or prospects. So they bought a decommissioned Soviet plane-at liquidation prices, straight from the Russian government-and started a shipping business. It wasn't long before Yuri, and many pilots like him, found themselves an unlikely (and ethically dubious) hub of global trading. Men like these are paid by the U.S., the Taliban, and blue-chip multinational companies to bring supplies- some legal, some not-across dangerous borders.
In a feat of daring reportage, Potter gets onto the flight deck with these outlaws and tells the story of their fearless missions. Dodging gunfire, Potter is taken from place to place by men trafficking everything from illicit weapons to emergency aid, making enemies everywhere but no reliable friends. As the world changes, we see the options for the crew first explode, then slowly diminish, until, in a desperate maneuver, they move their operations to the most lawless corners of Africa, where they operate to this day.
The story of these outlaws is a microcosm of the world since the end of the cold war: secret contracts, guerrilla foreign policy, and conflicts too thorny to be handled in public. Potter uses the story of these men to articulate an underground history of the globalized world. At once thrilling, provocative, and morally circumspect, this book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in espionage, or in how the world works today.
One of globalization's seamier corners the shadowy network of Russian aviators flying rattletrap cargo planes full of contraband to the world's hellholes is poked with a stick in this colorful expos -cum-adventure story. BBC correspondent Power flies along with "Mickey" and his crew of Soviet Air Force vets in their Ilyushin-76 transport plane, a model prized for its secret cargo holds that customs officials never check. The crew and their ilk go everywhere there's money to be made, legal or not: they transport building supplies, generators, and heroin in Afghanistan, humanitarian aid and blood diamonds in Africa, cocaine in Latin America, and arms almost everywhere. It's a story rife with ironies the same flight, the author notes, could carry U.N. food for refugees and Kalashnikovs for the militias who destroyed their homes which Potter traces upward to the hypocrisies of financiers and governments. But the book's heart is his vivid, atmospheric reportage on the hungover flyboys who subject their planes held together more with duct tape than rivets to potholed airstrips, crazed aerobatics, and ground fire. Through the dissolute romanticism peeks an arresting glimpse of an airborne proletariat desperate for a risky paycheck. 8 pages of b&w photos.