Staunton, Dec. 20 – Forty-three years ago this month, the Soviet government sent troops into Afghanistan for a special operation that was opposed by its own military leadership but that the political elite assumed could be carried out at low cost and so quickly that it would not lead the West to impose sanctions such as boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
Nearly ten years later, after suffering the loss of more than 13,000 dead, spending billions of dollars it didn’t have on the conflict there, and subjected to all kinds of sanctions including the Olympic boycott, the Soviet government had to admit defeat and pull the last of its military units out of Afghanistan.
December 2022 is not a round anniversary of these events, but because they serve as a distant mirror of the disaster Moscow is experiencing now in Ukraine, the parallels between the Brezhnev’s war and Putin’s war are so obvious that even pro-Kremlin outlets cannot fail to cause Russians to think about them even if all they do is recount what happened in 1979.
One such article, by Versiya commentator Georgy Filin begins by observing that no one thought the war in Afghanistan would be long. Instead, leaders in Moscow were sure it would be over in a few days or in any case less than a week. “But it lasted almost a decade, and the Soviet Union couldn’t win it” (versia.ru/27-dekabrya-1979-goda-sssr-nachal-voevat-v-afganistane).
Soviet military leaders were opposed to the war, and so the politicians decided it would be a special operation of the GRU, a calculation like so many others that rapidly proved mistaken, Filin says. And they thought the West would do nothing, an assumption that was even more incorrect.
But their greatest mistake, although it is not one Filin dares point to, is their assumption that they could invade a neighboring country without that coming back to haunt and destroy their own, yet another way in which Russian aggression in Ukraine is likely to resembled Soviet aggression against Afghanistan.
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