Archives reveal strategy switch on Afghanistan

“I believe that we can only bolster the revolution in Afghanistan with our bayonets, which is not an option for us. We cannot run such a risk.”

Foreign minister Andrei Gromyko: “Our army will become an aggressor if it goes into Afghanistan.”

Defence minister Dmitry Ustinov: “Like the other comrades, I do not support the idea of introducing troops into Afghanistan.”

General secretary Leonid Brezhnev: “I think the Politburo members are right in saying that it does not behoove us to be dragged into this war.”

Prime minister Alexei Kosygin (from a conversation with Afghan head of state Nur Muhammad Taraki, March 20, 1979)

“I would like to stress again that we have examined the option of introducing troops from every angle, we have carefully studied every aspect of this action and have come to the conclusion that if we introduced troops, the situation in your country, far from improving, would become more complicated. It is obvious that our troops would have to fight not only the external aggressor, but part of your people. And the people do not forgive such things.”

Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary Dmitri Ryurikov (President Yeltsin’s aide in the Nineties)

“It is still a mystery why the Politburo made such an about-face in its policy by deciding to introduce a fairly large military force. Throughout 1979, Soviet leaders repeatedly discussed the issue and invariably came to the unanimous conclusion that a military solution was not practicable. The foreign ministry was against the introduction of troops, and so were the council of ministers and the defence ministry. And then things were miraculously reversed.

“I remember well that, in the summer of 1979, reports began coming in from all sides that the Americans could deploy their missiles in Afghanistan if the government were defeated in the civil war there. One had to react to this information. However, it is still unknown which of the Soviet leaders undertook the role of persuading the other Politburo members to vote in favour of an invasion.”

Special File. Top secret.Resolution of the CC CPSU №176/125 of December 12, 1979

The situation in “A” (Afghanistan – RN)

1. To approve the considerations and measures set forth by comrades Andropov, Ustinov, and Gromyko. To allow them to make corrections of a non-fundamental character in the course of these activities. The issues that require a decision of the CC to be submitted to the Politburo in a timely manner. Comrades Andropov, Ustinov and Gromyko are to be responsible for implementing all these measures.

2. Comrades Andropov, Ustinov and Gromyko shall inform the members of the CC Politburo on the progress in implementing the measures planned.

CC Secretary Leonid Brezhnev

At midday on December 25, 1979, Russian troops received a directive from defence minister Dmitry Ustinov ordering the 40th army and the air force to start crossing the border with the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan at 3pm Moscow time. American and Nato observers would later note that the operation to move in a more than 50,000-strong force was lighting swift, and involved practically no casualties.


This is the hand-written, top-secret document, of which a single copy was produced, that formed the basis for all the directives ordering the Soviet invasion. The weasel word “measures” refers to the introduction of forces, as well as the violent liquidation of Hafizullah Amin and the capture of all strategic facilities in Kabul.

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