Staunton, December 25 – Forty years ago today, Moscow sent its military forces into Afghanistan to support the pro-Soviet regime there. That intervention lasted for ten years until Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew the troops. Many believe the war helped bring about the end of the USSR, but some argue it helped keep it survive as long as it did.
One of them is Sergey Skripal, a Stavropol writer who served in Afghanistan in 1980 and who wrote a popular book about his experiences, Kontinent. He argues that the intervention was fully justified and helped the Soviet Union continue to exist at a time when it was threatened by many things (apost.media/news/armiya/afganets-esli-by-ne-vveli-voyska-sssr-ne-stalo-by-gorazdo-ranshe/).
Moreover, he says, had Moscow not sent in troops in 1979, the Soviet Union would have ceased to exist even before 1991. Had Gorbachev not pulled them in 1989, Skripal argues, “the USSR would have lasted longer.”
On the one hand, of course, these are the arguments of a veteran of that conflict, a man who obviously has a great deal invested in that conflict and is angry at the many who argue either that the war or the end of it contributed more to the demise of the USSR than did any other factor.
But on the other, Skripal’s position reflects a far larger problem among many Russians, a tendency on their part to believe that a single action or a single individual could and in this case did lead to its disintegration and demise. Those who believe that implicitly if not explicitly believe their country lacks the links that hold other countries together regardless of events.
And that belief in a single cause helps to explain why they are prepared to support the most authoritarian rulers, confident that only by doing so can their country and nation survive. Vladimir Putin has been exploiting this sense for the past two decades – even though appears unaware that it reflects a profound national weakness rather than a real national strength.