In A Nutshell
It reads like the rough draft of a James Bond movie. Beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed women, always with makeup on, and always wearing white, stalking Russian soldiers through the snow and killing them in cold blood. Some chalk it up to a weird sort of propaganda, but others swear the White Tights are real.
The Whole Bushel
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes, you can’t tell the difference at all.
During the Chechen Wars, stories began to circulate about snipers. Beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, cold-blooded female snipers called beliye kolgotky by the Russians. The White Tights (or White Stockings), so named because they were said to only wear white, were said to be contract killers paid by the Chechens on a kill-by-kill basis. They provided the heads of their victims as proof (now, it’s said that with gun-mounted cameras, that’s no longer necessary), and were paid to aim not for their targets’ heads, but for the genitals.
According to Russian soldiers, the assassins would send radio transmissions to the men in the field, promising to kill the officers and wound the soldiers. But that’s where the story gets a little hazy.
Many soldiers believe the stories. The women were said to be from small Baltic states with a grudge against Russia, and certainly the idea of these ice queens appearing out of the snow and hefting a sniper rifle is a terrifying one. They’re even given a background; the women are said to be members of a biathlon team, trained to cross miles and miles of rugged terrain then successfully fire a weapon and hit a target.
Sure, it sounds like some kind of civilian sniper training, but the head of the Russian Biathlon Federation went on record to deny any of it was true . . . after reportedly checking with his Baltic counterparts.
The story also got a boost when newspapers reported the capture of several female assassins—from the Baltics and from the Ukraine. However, other papers reported that the stories were absolute myth, attributing the creation of these mysterious female assassin to paranoia, convoluted historical facts, and not a little bit of storytelling around the fire.
Even if they are fiction, they’re undoubtedly based on some fascinating women from Russia’s history. During World War II, the Soviet Union suffered catastrophic casualties. They began recruiting women as snipers; one woman in particular is credited with 309 confirmed kills. The Russian military realized what success they were having against the Germans, and kept training them. It was said that women were more patient, and, according to researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Conservative Politics, they were more cruel.
Researchers also note that it’s often easier for a woman to infiltrate enemy territory, especially if they’re armed with a child.
Russia’s tradition of female snipers dates back even farther than that. They were also instrumental in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939, and during the Russian Civil War in 1918.
The idea of the White Tights has achieved a mythological standing in the Russian military. Beliefs in witches and witchcraft are deeply rooted in the Russian psyche, and only increase the power generated by the highly sexualized image of these flawlessly beautiful, ice-cold bombshells stalking through the Russian night with soldiers in the sights of their rifles.
It’s also been theorized that the snipers’ blue-eyed beauty serves another purpose. It’s a throwback to the Aryan race, to the Nazi ideal, to fascist perfection. And if a sniper rifle isn’t terrifying enough, we’re not sure what is.
Show Me The Proof
The Moscow Times: Myth of Women Snipers Returns
Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000: Lessons from Urban Combat, by Olga Oliker
The Baltimore Sun: Taking aim at maids of myth
The Economist: Russia and Chechnya: Are foreigners fighting there?