The last war of the Soviet superpower was played out against the backdrop of dramatic change within the USSR. This study is the first to adopt a broad perspective to identify the impact and implications of the Afghan war on Russian politics and society. It draws extensively upon official and unofficial sources, as well as the afganets veterans themselves, to illustrate the way the war fed into a wide range of other processes, from the retreat from globalism in foreign policy to the rise of grassroots political activism.
The veterans, their experiences and fates are examined both to explode certain myths and to use them as a case study in the politics of the Brezhnev era, the distribution of power and the state's relationship with disenfranchised citizens. The same approach is used to examine the war's victims - from injured veterans to bereaved families and carers forced to pick up the pieces - and then the rise of social and political movements related to the war. Further, Afghanistan's implications for the military, notably the professional officer corps, underline how the war dramatised issues already coming to the fore and accelerated changes already taking place.
The central thesis of the book is that the war must be seen in the context of the fall of the USSR and the rise of the new Russia. It did not bury Brezhnevism and then Gorbachevism, though it certainly helped. But the experience of Afghanistan played its part in the evolution of post-Soviet Russia's foreign and security policies. When Boris Yeltsin appointed his first defence minister he picked an afganets, and the 1993 Military Doctrine called on the lessons of Afghanistan in quelling unrest within and on Russia's borders.