Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Russia: Scholars Shed New Light on Cold War Kremlin

For a few dedicated academics, the Cold War isn’t dead. While recent archival research tends to uphold existing interpretations of the superpower confrontation, scholars have made a few exciting finds.

Mark Kramer, director of the Cold War Studies Program and senior fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, discussed some recent discoveries during an early April seminar at George Washington University.

In work that has relevance to the present day, Kramer said that documents recently reviewed in Soviet archives shed light on the Kremlin’s decade-long war effort in Afghanistan. The archives make clear that most Soviet military commanders “were opposed to getting involved” in Afghanistan since they wanted to fight wars in Europe, or against China and “not get bogged down in peripheral areas.” But the KGB and other power ministries eventually forced a reluctant Politburo to act in late 1979. The Red Army remained in Afghanistan until 1989.

The archives also showed “how the Soviet Union managed to get out of a conflict that it probably should not have gotten involved in.” Kramer says it would be a mistake to consider the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan a total failure—the military made some “costly early mistakes,” but then turned things around and waged a reasonably effective counter-insurgency campaign. Read More