Vladimir Putin: Good morning, dear comrades and friends,
It has been fifteen years since the last battalion of the Soviet Army was withdrawn from Afghanistan, but the Afghan war will continue to engage the minds of historians, politicians, civil society and the military. And those who fought in the war or lost their relatives, husbands and children in that war will remember it forever.
More than half a million Soviet officers and men fought in the Afghan war. We have no right to forget that they went to fight that war in accordance with their military oath. Thousands of servicemen gave their lives fulfilling their military duty. We have no right to forget about it.
The war in Afghanistan reflected all the contradictions and the complexities of that era. It was a truly “hot” part of the prolonged Cold War. But when the decision was taken to deploy troops, nobody gave a thought to the economic problems of one of the world’s poorest countries. Likewise, the decision-makers ignored the fact that the ethnic and tribal contradictions in Afghanistan had reached such a pitch that the country was on the brink of a civil war.
Yes, the Soviet leadership of the time did not decide to move troops into Afghanistan overnight. The situation in the country was regularly discussed in the Politburo and the General Staff. And pleas for military assistance kept coming from Afghanistan. As a result, the decision was taken in December 1979.
Of course, one of the motives was the wish of the Soviet Government to secure our southern borders. Afghanistan was an extremely volatile and unpredictable neighbour. And we see what is happening there today.
I must say that the Soviet military commanders – and I would like to stress that they were military men – were against the operation, citing the difficulty of conducting military operations on that particular terrain. This is attested to by the documents and the testimony of the veterans who were engaged in these processes.
But the superpowers and their allies had been engaged in a global confrontation for decades, and they proceeded in accordance with the logic of confrontation and their own vision of their geopolitical interests of the time.
The US was guided by the same considerations before it invaded Vietnam. The Soviet leadership also proceeded from its vision of the geopolitical interests of the Soviet Union at that time.
However, whatever the rights and wrongs of that decision were, the outcome is evident. The Soviet Union had become embroiled in a futile war, a war that lasted almost 10 years.
And today we are duty-bound to analyse and draw lessons from the Afghan war and face the truth.
The Afghan war proved that no one has the right to interfere in the life of another country and neither communism, nor democracy, nor a market economy can be imposed by force. It is impossible to bring all this on the armour of tanks or justify it by any ideological arguments. It is a serious lesson not only for the superpowers, but for the entire international community.
It must also be recognised that the Afghan war contributed to the growth of international terrorism. To this day the world community has to discuss and coordinate positions and contribute to restoring order in that long-suffering country and seek to ensure conditions for its peaceful and economically sound development.
The Afghan war stretched human endurance to its limit. Our Afghan veterans know and remember it. They had their full share of the hardship, grief, despair and adversity. They were fighting in a strange country while our own people knew practically nothing about the causes of that war or its goals or even about the courage and exploits of our soldiers. Indeed, many of those who returned from that war sometimes met with misunderstanding, indifference and even disapproval at home. And of course they wondered why.
The truth is that few people showed concern for the ruined lives of our Afghan veterans, their wounds and their mental torment. More often than not, they had to fend for themselves while political leaders had other concerns.
But addressing you, I would like to say that you have managed not only to preserve the bonds of your military brotherhood, you have strengthened them in civilian life. You have managed to overcome the physical and moral traumas mainly by sticking together and supporting each other. It has to be admitted that you relied more on mutual support than on help from the Government. You have managed to preserve the links with your comrades in the CIS countries who I am sure are commemorating this date.
And finally you have managed to prove that what unites you is not only the shared joys of victories or the grief of losses and defeats, but the ability to work and to help each other.
In conclusion, I would like to sincerely thank all those who fought in the Afghan war, all those who have not succumbed, all those who have managed to return to civilian life.
Today, Russia needs people who can stand up to adversity and meet challenges.
I wish all those present, all those who fought in the Afghan war, all those who have withstood the test of that war and your families good health, success and prosperity.
All the best to you.