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HomeThe Journal of Power Institutions...Issue 12Book Reviews - General (2 titles)Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The...

Book Reviews - General (2 titles)

Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989

London, Profile Books, 2011, 431 pages
Lester W. Grau
Bibliographical reference

Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989, London, Profile Books, 2011, 431 pages

Index terms

Research Fields:

History, Political Science
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Full text

1For many years, Western scholarship on the Soviet-Afghan War was limited to a small group of academics, soldiers, retired diplomats, regional specialists and journalists. With the current mission in Afghanistan, this group has grown. Sir Rodric Braithwaite is a most welcome addition. Following occupation duties as a soldier in post-war Vienna, Rodric Braithwaite studied Russian at Cambridge from 1952-1955. He then entered the Foreign Service and, among other postings, had two tours in Moscow, the second as British Ambassador from 1988 to 1992. This last tour spanned the end of the Soviet-Afghan War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He clearly was in an optimum position to view and analyze these events. This is his third book on Russian affairs. It is a very good book indeed.

2Ambassador Braithwaite is known and respected as one of the grand old men among the Russian analytical crowd. He uses his Russian language skills, his access to Russian archives, diplomatic contacts and variety of Russian friends and contacts to draw the Russian perspective on events. He has again applied these resources to this book. He has produced a balanced, often-sympathetic work on the Soviet Union’s long war in Afghanistan that discounts many of the assumptions, pronouncements and misconceptions that are held in the West. It is more detailed in political events (he is, after all, an ambassador) and individual vignettes. It is not so much a military history of the war, as a thematic series of short vignettes about many of the people that were involved in it. It sounds like a chaotic approach, but it works well. The book is about the Afgantsy - the Russians who served in Afghanistan and is their story written for an English-speaking audience.

3Braithwaite’s core theme is that the Soviet 40th Army came to prop up a communist regime in chaos. The political leadership intended to leave within two years, but was trapped in the middle of a civil war. The Soviet army had its problems but fought successfully, controlled its battle space and left the country in good order. Braithwaite weaves the vignettes throughout this theme and covers peripheral topics such as advisers, troop hazing, women in combat, the combat experience, the missing in action, post-traumatic stress and the internal politics of the Politburo. The book is remarkably well crafted. It also has the most poignant dedication that I have read.

4An author is not doing his job if the reader does not disagree with him on one or two points. The reviewer found him a bit snarky when comparing Afghanistan to the reviewer’s own war in South Vietnam. But, this is precisely the same feeling that the Afgantsy have for outsiders who write about their war, but did not personally experience it. So, bravo Sir Braithwaite! Well researched, well written and well worth reading.

5This is a must-read book for coalition planners and governments involved with Afghanistan and Pakistan. I strongly recommend his book to planners, historians and military professionals alike.

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Electronic reference

Lester W. Grau, Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 12 | 2011, Online since 14 December 2011, connection on 03 December 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Lester W. Grau

Foreign Military Studies Office

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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