The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan was one of those moments in history that we can look back at and wonder why they did it and even now it seems foolish. The Soviets entered the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan on Christmas Day 1979 to ‘liberate the people’ and restore the peace. However, the Soviets were conducting a power play that would tear the country apart. It was thought of as a quick fix to a political situation, but it would rapidly turn into a quagmire that would contribute to the fall of the USSR itself.
In 1978, their was a coup that overthrew the Republic of Afghanistan and replaced its non-aligned President with the Communist Party of Afghanistan. The new government was very progressive and promoted the equality of women in Afghan society and conducted massive land reforms. This centralized top-down approach to ruling led to the initiation of an insurgency against the central Communist government. Also the head of the DRA, Nur Muhammad Taraki created a cult of personality around himself that lead to the Alienation of many ethnic groups within the government. This tension within the government would lead to his overthrow by Hafizullah Amin in late 1979. This led to worsening relations between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union as Amin failed to maintain the wreck of the Afghan army and handle the growing revolt in the country. Their was also growing concerns of Chinese, Pakistani and Western interference in the country to try to overthrow the government and the Soviets were more than willing to go all the way to protect their interests in Afghanistan. When Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan, they immediately killed Amin and claimed they had been invited by the people of Afghanistan and installed Babrak Karmal as the leader of Afghanistan. This virtually caused detente to go up in flames practically overnight and tensions between the Soviets and the rest of the world deteriorated. The Soviet intervention also caused the insurgency in the country to grow, requiring even more Soviet resources and troops.
For the next few years the economy of Afghanistan began to weaken and decline along with the Soviet economy. Ultimately, that is the greatest effect of the Afghan conflict, the economic decline of the Soviet Union. A war in Afghanistan is always expensive, just ask the US government, but in the planned economy of the Soviet Union, military resources going to a back water like Afghanistan meant that resources were going away from the already stagnant economy. The Soviets thought that their massive amounts of brute force could solve a political problem, but underestimated the fractured Afghan society and lack of unifying features. The Soviet Invasion would also have broader Geo-political consequences as it motivated the US to support Charlie Wilson’s war and support Islamic fundamentalist groups in the region against the Soviets who wouldn’t just go away after the war. The war may not have been a sudden strike to the Soviet system, but it was persistent and costly and that over time would contribute to the growing dissident movement in the USSR that would lead to its collapse. The Soviets got involved because of a perceived American interference in the country. Now that may have been true to some extent, but the American involvement would only balloon once the Soviets crossed the border and would lead to a souring between the two superpowers and come to help define the last decade of the Cold War.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
The Current Digest of the Russian Press. https://dlib-eastview-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/publication/6765?searchLink=%2Fsearch%2Fsimple