'The Fall of the Wall seemed to have no effect on the Soviet military' - Carey Schofield

Carey Schofield

It is often the case that people who have achieved something truly remarkable are exceedingly (and genuinely) modest about what they have done. Carey Schofield is just such a person. When I first came across Carey’s name I admit it was with a tinge of jealousy. It was 1991, and she had just published a book entitled Inside the Soviet Military. She had spent months researching the book by living alongside Soviet soldiers, gaining the kind of access which I could only have dreamt about during my time as a Soviet military analyst from 1982 to 1988. When I saw Carey in early 2020 after a gap of many years she told me that she was now running a school in Pakistan, and had been for the past seven years. I was intrigued, and asked her if she would share more of her amazing story with me.

Carey Schofield, London, February 2020

Almost 30 years after her first book on the Soviet armed forces was published there is still one question which stands out for anyone who knew the Soviet Union: how on earth could a foreign journalist – and a woman, too – gain the kind of access necessary to produce such an insightful work as Inside the Soviet Military? Even given the more relaxed atmosphere under President Mikhail Gorbachev compared to all of his predecessors, surely the armed forces would be the last bastion of Soviet rigidity?

“I was fascinated by the changes which were taking place thanks to glasnost and perestroika [Gorbachev’s policies of openness and restructuring – SD]”, says Carey, “and wondered how these were affecting the Soviet military. So I asked for access. It took a while, but eventually I was granted it. And once I was in the system and had the backing of senior officers I was able to travel quite easily from one unit to another. I travelled right across the Soviet Union, from Leningrad to Kamchatka. One thing which fascinated me was that the Army seemed then to have no real grasp of the implications of what was going on in Eastern Europe.”

The socialist systems imposed by the Soviet Union after the Second World War collapsed like dominoes throughout 1989, the symbolic highlight being the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November. Carey continues: “At the time it almost felt as though the fall of the Wall was having no effect on the Soviet military. For them, it appeared then that  life would continue  as before.”

“But didn’t they regard you with suspicion?” I ask. “You weren’t just a foreign journalist, but a woman, too! Given the patriarchal nature of Soviet – and, indeed, Russian – society, didn’t you feel that they patronised you?”

“No, never. You know what Russians are like. When you make friends with people they accept you and introduce you to others. It must have been clear to the Russians that I loved their country. I got to know people in the airborne forces, the VDV, well. They were very professional and certainly more confident than others. They took me to places which I probably shouldn’t have had access to.”

It was particularly because of her dealings with the VDV that Carey decided to write a second book, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces. This showed her that, curiously, even though Spetsnaz (Voyska spetsialnogo naznacheniya, Special Purpose Forces, the closest Russia has to the British SAS – SD) were considered the fighting elite, they were in some cases less well trained and equipped than the Airborne Forces. The Airborne Forces were formidably competent and, with their own Headquarters in Moscow, they enjoyed considerable independence. The Spetsnaz Brigades were full of seasoned fighters, and they had done more than their bit in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but they didn’t at that time have such strong institutional support. The Army Spetsnaz forces came under military intelligence, the GRU  (the Main Reconnaissance Directorate) which devoted most of its attention to intelligence-gathering abroad. The Spetsnaz Brigades sometimes felt that they were the poor relations within GRU. That appears to have changed in the decades since then.

It was noticeable that the Armed Forces all  hated the KGB, the secret service.
A driving force behind her desire to write these books, Carey laughs, is that she’s “just nosey!” Certainly her first book was testimony to this. Mesrine, The Life and Death of a Supercrook, was published in 1980, telling the story of the French gangster, Jacques Mesrine. She even managed to arrange an interview with Mesrine when he was on the run from the police.

And her experiences with the Soviet military helped to encourage Carey to carry out a similar experience with the Pakistan Army, spending five years with them before publishing Inside the Pakistan Army in 2011.

The Pakistan connection helped to pave the way to Carey’s latest venture – or, to be more exact, adventure. She was asked to use her network to find a new Principal for The Langlands School and College, in Chitral, in the Hindu Kush in North-Western Pakistan. The school had been started in 1988, and run by Major Geoffrey Langlands for over twenty years. In his nineties he was looking for a successor. After two years fruitlessly searching, Carey offered to take on the task herself. Seven years later, she is still there.

That, in itself, is remarkable, and was recognised when she was awarded an OBE for "services to education and the community in northern Pakistan" in the 2019 New Year Honours List. But from interviewing a gangster, to spending time with two armies, to being Principal of a school in a remote part of Pakistan, no-one can be in any doubt that Carey Schofield is, indeed, a remarkable person.


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