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St. Petersburg Trying To Convert Defeat Into Victory By Commemorating Soviet Withdrawal From Afghanistan – OpEd


Officials in St. Petersburg are staging a three-day festival to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and seeking to portray what was an obvious defeat into a glorious victory, an insult to history and the memory of those who fought there, Sergey Taranov.

In a Novyye izvestiya commentary, Taranov, who 30 years ago served as an Izvestiya correspondent attached to Soviet forces in Afghanistan, denounces what he calls “Afghan amnesia” and the celebration of “a shameful anniversary” (

Not only did the Soviet invasion fail to achieve its goals and cost far more lives than anyone has admitted, the journalist continues, but its result has been “horrific: unending wars continue in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and In Syria. And who knows, [had the Soviets not invaded Afghanistan] there wouldn’t have an Al Qaeda, ISIS, September 11, or the deaths in Syria.”

Moreover, Taranov continues, “the USSR itself disintegrated to a great extent as a result of the excessive spending on the Afghan war, the sanctions the West imposed, the alienation of Soviet citizens to an unnecessary and foolish war which was shamefully called their ‘international duty.’”

Given all that, one would think that no one could look at the Afghan war without a sense of shame and even anger. Certainly, one would not think, Taranov says, that anyone could try to “convert a tragedy into a victory-like farce.” But that is just what officials in the northern capital’s Committee on Youth are doing.

There is a way to mark such wars, he continues. The US has shown the way. Each year on April 30, that country has a Day of Veterans of the Vietnam War in which the US lost almost 60,000 soldiers and suffered a major defeat. But the Americans don’t lie about it: they treat the day as a day of regret for what happened.

Unlike the Russians, the Americans don’t try to make a defeat into a victory by lying.

Taranov does not draw the obvious connection between the way in which Moscow now wants to treat the Afghan war and currently treats its involvement in Syria; but few of his readers will fail to see the parallels – and at least some of them may become as angry as the journalist clearly is with such shameful playing with the truth.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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