Russians invade Afghanistan

Alan Philps describes the night the Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan and killed the president on Brezhnev’s orders

The World Today Published 5 December 2019 Updated 2 November 2020 2 minute READ

Alan Philps

Former Editor, The World Today, Communications and Publishing

In December 1979, while a trainee in the Reuters Moscow bureau, my job was to sit in the office in the evening and keep an eye on Soviet TV in case the news reader was wearing a black tie. This could mean that Leonid Brezhnev or another of his ageing colleagues in the Kremlin had died.

On the evening of December 27 there was no time for tie watching. The Americans were reporting Soviet troop movements into Afghanistan, but it was not at all clear what this meant.

The country had long been in the Soviet sphere of influence, though it was proving hard for the Kremlin to control the local communists, a nest of vipers known as the People’s Democratic Party which had unleashed a wave of repression inside its own ranks and throughout the country.

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