Soviet Union Table of Contents
The Soviet armed forces have exercised their "external function" mainly on the periphery of the Soviet Union. They occupied eastern Poland in 1939 and annexed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in l940 (see Prelude to War , ch. 2). Subsequently, during World War II they "liberated" Eastern Europe from German rule and then incorporated it into a bloc of socialist states (see Appendix C).
The Soviet Union managed to turn these territories into an outpost of socialism, as well as into a defensive buffer against an invasion from the West. This buffer became increasingly valuable to the Soviet Union both as an extension of Soviet air defenses to the end of the Soviet defense perimeter and as a potential springboard for an offensive against NATO.
In l956 the Soviet Union set a precedent for military intervention "in defense of socialism" when it suppressed the uprising that threatened communist rule in Hungary. In August 1968, the Soviet Union again intervened militarily in Eastern Europe when it invaded Czechoslovakia in response to the Czechoslovak reform movement begun in the spring. The invasion later was justified on the basis of the doctrine of "limited sovereignty" of socialist states. Also known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, the doctrine was first enunciated on September 21, l968, in a Pravda editorial, to justify the invasion. Because Czechoslovakia and Hungary lie on the Soviet defense perimeter, national security considerations, in addition to ideological and political concerns, undoubtedly played a part in the Soviet decision to intervene.
The December l979 invasion of Afghanistan was another case in which doctrinal concerns and interests of state security coalesced (see Asia , ch. 10). Although nominally nonaligned, Afghanistan was, according to Soviet arguments, well on its way to socialism in l979, and a reversal was unacceptable to the Soviet Union. In addition, because Afghanistan borders the Soviet Union, Soviet leaders sought to prevent it from aligning itself with the West or from becoming an Islamic republic allied to Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini's Iran. The invasion, although "correct" according to Soviet ideological criteria, plunged the Soviet Union into one of the longest local wars (see Glossary) it had ever fought, second only to the 1939-40 Soviet-Finnish War, in which over 100,000 Soviet troops died. In l988 the Soviet leadership declared that it would negotiate a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and seek a political settlement. On April 14, 1988, Soviet foreign minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze signed an agreement in Geneva providing for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989.
The invasion of Afghanistan tarnished the Soviet image abroad, where the invasion was perceived and condemned as an act of aggression. Some Western analysts regarded it as an unprecedented extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine of "socialist internationalism" (see Glossary) to a country that was nonaligned and thus not part of the world socialist system (see Glossary). A majority vote in the United Nations (UN) censured the invasion as a flagrant intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Soviet leaders hoped that the 1988 Geneva agreement, which stipulated a unilateral withdrawal of Soviet forces, would placate world opinion and repair the political damage done by the war.
The only benefit that the Soviet Union appeared to have derived from the war in Afghanistan was the use of Afghan territory to train Soviet troops to fight in mountainous terrain and to test Soviet weapons. However, Soviet concepts of offense and combined arms, and Soviet troops and weapons, fared poorly in the difficult mountain terrain. Tanks were of little use in ground combat in narrow mountain passes. The Soviet military learned that helicopters were of greater importance in the mountains because helicopters could carry out air attacks and could land troops on enemy territory. The Soviet military also found that the enemy's surface-to-air missiles posed a grave threat to attacking Soviet aircraft. Thus, the Soviet Union probably decided to withdraw from Afghanistan not only for political but also for military reasons.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents