Thursday, May 20, 2010

The (Maybe) Deadly 'White Tights'


"White Tights" (also "White Pantyhose" or White Stockings; the beliye kolgotki, Russian: белые колготки; Latvian: baltās zeķbikses) is a Russian urban myth surrounding the alleged participation of female sniper mercenaries in combat against Russian forces in various armed conflicts from late 1980s.

The myth describes these women as blond Amazon-like nationalistic biathletes turned anti-Russian mercenaries. They come predominantly from the Baltic states, but subsequent variations of the myth have diversified the ethnic composition of the snipers, including Ukrainian, Russian and even black women in their midst.

The name "White Tights" originates from the white-coloured winter sports attire these snipers were wearing and was first coined during the Nagorno-Karabakh War.

The phenomenon was first reported during the late 1980s, with female Baltic irregulars being rumoured fighting with the resistance in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It appeared first in the English-language media only in conjunction with the post-Soviet First and Second Chechen Wars. Attempts have been made to link the alleged presence of the "White Tights" in Chechnya, not only with the special forces and intelligence services of the Baltic states, but also to the positive relations Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev enjoyed with both the government of independent Estonia and Lithuanian politician Vytautas Landsbergis. Sergey Yastrzhembsky, the chief spokesman of the Kremlin during the early phase of the Second Chechen War, argued that female Baltic snipers actually existed based on evidence from GRU military intelligence, who "don't make mistakes". The government of Estonia has asked for the evidence behind the claims and sent diplomatic notes twice to Russia without receiving an official answer.

In November 2008, Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Russian Federation Prosecutor-General's investigative committee, has suggested that mercenaries from the Baltic states were among those known to have participated on the Georgian side during the 2008 South Ossetia war, including a female sniper from Latvia. Earlier during the conflict, Russia Today TV had reported the South Ossetian authorities as saying that "there was a group of women snipers operating in the city [i.e., Tskhinvali]", and that "Ukrainians and citizens of the Baltic countries have been among the prisoners they have detained." These reports have resurrected the rumours of "White Tights" operating in the Caucasus. A spokesman for the Latvian Ministry of Defence, Airis Rikveilis, commented Bastrykin's statements as follows: "We had thought that the ghost of the 'White Tights' had died in the Russian press, but now we see that it still roams Russia."

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