A Beautiful Radioactive Wilderness

In the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear incident , the international community established an exclusion zone of 30 km around the site to protect the public. The exclusion zone has closed off 1,600 square miles of land to human in habitation. 30 years after the incident the area still has remained untouched though there is one glimmer of hope. 03-Chernobyl-animals.ngsversion.1461679692238.adapt.885.1

The lack of human beings within  the exclusion zone has allowed for much of the natural wild life to thrive within the zone which in a way shows the area is not entirely dangerous. The animal populations have exploded since the lack of humans is a refuge for many native species in the area including the Przewalski’s horse that was nearing extinction in the 90’s when it was reintroduced to the area.

“In a new study released Monday, Beasley says that the population of large mammals on the Belarus side has increased since the disaster. He was shocked by the number of animals he saw there in a five-weekSURVEY. Camera traps captured images of a bison, 21 boars, nine badgers, 26 gray wolves, 60 raccoon dogs (an Asian species also called a tanuki), and 10 red foxes. “It’s just incredible. You can’t go anywhere without seeing wolves,” he says. (See a video about wolves taking back Chernobyl.)”

-National Geographic

One of the major worries is the radioactive contamination into the Pripyat River which runs next to the Chernobyl power plant. Many Scientist still say that ever though the animal populations have been growing at a steady rate in the area that it is not indicative of individual animal health resulting from exposure to the radioactivity.02-Chernobyl-animals.ngsversion.1461679690979.adapt.768.1



Graveyard of Empires

The Soviet-Afghan War has been a point of contention through the modern era. Many people have called it the Soviet’s Vietnam in reference to the long draw out fight that drained soviet resolve in the conflict. This paper will discuss the course and ultimate failure by the soviets to win the war and how that subsequently led to the fall of the Soviet Union. In order to gain insight into the intricacies of the conflict there will be a brief review of the Soviet afghan war. Then, we will continue on to how the war contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was created by the Saur Revolution on April 27, 1978. The new regime had close ideological connections with the Soviet Union. Under the leadership of Nur Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, The new government went about trying to create a new soviet state outside of the Warsaw Pact. Initially the Soviets were supportive to their new neighbor but as the soviets were pressured more and more about giving assistance to the new communist state. The Soviet Union had a few reservations about the new party in Afghanistan.  Many politicians in the Soviet Union believed that the New Afghan government was moving too fast into the Communist system and were annihilating the afghan people’s traditions.  The Soviets also saw the Afghan government start to fracture, first with the purges of rival factions within the government and then a move by Amin to over through the Revolutionary Council government. Amin brought an even harsher regime in and was assassinated by the Russians three months after taking power as part of Operation Storm.

Operation Storm marks the start of direct Soviet influence in Afghanistan. Once eliminating the old regime The Soviets then propped up a new government led by Babrak Karmal in December of 1979. After this point the Soviet Union did not leave Afghanistan until there withdrawal in 1989. Karmel acknowledged the need for Russian support for the regime was crucial for the new Afghan government to survive. Over the next ten years the Soviets fought to keep the mujahedeen at bay.


It is very important to study the soviet invasion in Afghanistan since it had effects of the rest of the world. As I talked about earlier, the Soviets had initial reservations about involving themselves in Afghanistan during the early attempts to create a communist government. Once the Soviet “fixed” the Afghan Government to a regime that was more in line with Soviet principles it brought along many new issues for the Soviet Union. Technically, this was the First time that the Soviet Union had invaded a country that was outside of the Warsaw Pact. This was a major step for the Soviet Union because it brought a lot more criticism from the international community since it seemed as though the Russians were pushing to expand their reach even farther than before. Many of the western nations believed the Soviet Union was trying to Expand South toward the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. This was especially important to the west since they want to protect all of the oil coming out of the Persian gulf as well as the fact that if the Soviets continued their offensive into either Iran or Pakistan it would have given the Soviets a warm water port on the Indian Ocean.

The Soviet Afghan War was broken up into four major parts. The initial phase of the Soviet occupation was the movement of soviet troops into Afghanistan. During this phase, the Soviets propped up the new government. The Soviets then invaded the country using a two pronged attack going south from the Soviet Union meeting at Kandahar city. This First phase extended from December of 1979 to February 1980. During this time the Soviets controlled most of the major cities in Afghanistan and help settle the country into the new government. There was little combat during this phase other than that was needed to quell different political factions that were opposed to the new government. During this first period the Soviet leadership believed that the bulk of the fighting could be handled by local military forces but as time went on it became apparent that the local troops could not be trusted to fight and win against the many resistance factions within the nation.

When the Soviets first entered Afghanistan they believed that if they helped stabilize the nation the new government of Afghanistan would be able to support itself with little to no outside intervention from the Soviet Union. The fact that Afghan Forces could not compete with the roving afghan forces throughout the country was a major tactical error on the part of the Soviets since it laid the groundwork for the rest of the conflict. By pledging support to Afghanistan, The Soviet tied itself to the success of the communist regime in Afghanistan. This commitment caused Russia to pour more and more military assets into the country.

The second stage of Soviet intervention lasted from March 1980 till April 1985. During this time there was wide scale warfare throughout the entire country. The original strategy of the soviets was to flush out the mujahedeen out of the country using standard Soviet military tactics that were developed for invading across the relatively flat grounds of Eastern Europe. However, these tactics did not work well in Afghanistan with its very mountainous topography. At first, the mujahedeen tried to fight pitched conventional style battles which they found that the Russians modern technology overwhelmed the rebels. The rebels then adjusted their tactics in order to take away from the Soviets advantage by using guerilla tactics by ambushing soviet troops and then quickly fading back into the local populations. This style of fighting frustrated the Soviets and caused them to change their tactics in order to effectively combat the mujahedeen.

The Soviet tactics at the start of the war all were based around those that were made to invade Europe and the flat lands of China. In the new mountainous areas of Afghanistan these tactics did not work well. At the start of the war Soviet tactics dictated that infantry units were to move along with their armored personnel carriers. In the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan the armored vehicles were not able to maneuver effectively. Also the heavy Russian Equipment limited the ability of Russian troops to maneuver outside of their vehicles once they dismounted in the mountains. This quote from the book, The Soviet-Afghan War: how a superpower fought and lost, sums up the Russian’s predicament in the early stages of the war.

At this time, the inadequacies of heavy military equipment, which had limited application in mountainous terrain, became apparent. Tanks, BMPs, and self-propelled artillery were road bound and lacked the operational expanse for their employment. Contemporary high-precision jet aircraft were unable to support ground forces effectively with air strikes. Using helicopter gunships, the Soviets were able, for the first time, to establish more effective methods of combating the Mujahideen in the mountains. This use of the helicopters was severely limited later by the introduction of the man-portable Stinger air defense missile. This appreciably decreased the results of and combat which frequently did not achieve their projected goals.[1]

Along with these problems the Russians lacked the initiative to change tactics to combat this new type of warfare. By the end of the second phase of the war the Russians started to change tactics and started to use helicopters to drop troops in behind the mujahedeen so that they would cut off their escape routes away from the main Russian. This was by far the bloodiest part of the war For the Russians since they were conducting full on combat operations throughout the country.

The third phase of the war was characterized by the limited withdrawal of Soviet troops and the formation of Afghan self-defense detachments. This phase lasted from April 1985- April 1986. The formation of the Afghani army was a way for the Soviet Union to lessen the amount of casualties and help the government of Afghanistan to start to support itself. During this time the frequency and scale of operations were scaled down in order to preserve troop strength and morale of Russian soldiers. On the political side it was decided that the afghan war was not going to be won by pure military strength because of the type of guerilla warfare that was employed by the mujahedeen.

During the fourth and final phase of the conflict there was very few military operation lead by the soviet army. At this point in the war, the soviets only held the major cities and rarely ventured into the mountains. The Soviets realized that they had lost the fight in Afghanistan but were not able to leave Afghanistan because they would lose face in the eyes of the world if they did not strike a deal with the western power and Afghanistan. Many top level politicians and military leader squabbled about whose fault it was that they got involved in the war.  In the Notes from the Politburo Session in 1987, members argued about how the cannot explain to the Russian people that “A million soldiers went through Afghanistan. And we will not be able to explain to our people why we did not complete it [i.e. the war]. We suffered such heavy losses! And what for? We undermined the prestige of our country, brought bitterness. What did we lose so many people for?”[2] They went on to talk about the fact that they were asked by the Afghans 11 times before finally sending troops into the country. The afghan government also began a campaign of national reconciliation in which the people reject and vow to continue the jihad until every Soviet soldier had left the country. On the 15th of February, 1989 the last Soviet units left Afghanistan.

The Soviet-Afghan War was a major event in the history of the Soviet Union and was one of the many causes for the fall of the Soviet Union. The ten year war placed both economic and social stresses on the Soviet Union. These stresses have been attributed to the fall of the Soviet Union. Over the course of the war Soviet Russia felt the strain on their resources as the war in Afghanistan continued and sapped the Soviet union of physical resources and man power.

During the Soviet-Afghan war the soviets lost approximately 13,310 soldiers, 35,478 wounded, and 311 missing.[3] This amount of lost was felt across the Soviet Union as every saw an entire generation of young men disappeared. That is from about 115,000 troops that had entered the country over the entire course of the war. Just these raw figures show how much of a toll the war had on the Soviet Union. Many people around the Soviet Union noticed the effect of the war on the population but it was never reported about the actual death toll of the war until 1988.

The war also drained critical resources in the Soviet Union where the production of good could not kept up with the demand of the war. From 1985 until the end of the war the Soviet Union experienced food shortages as the leaders of the Soviet Union focused on supplying the warfighter they neglected the rest of the Soviet Union. Obviously the standard of living was much lower in Russia compared to other western European countries, but with the increased strain of fighting the war politicians decide to send the majority of the food to the warfighters in Afghanistan and left the Soviet Union with widespread food shortages. Some of the effects of this policy were food rationing by the government, long lines for food, and overall food scarcity.[4]

Physiologically, the physical effects of the war started to were on the people of the Soviet Union. The large amounts of casualties were able to be seen by the general population by the lack of young men that were lost in a decade of war. Often times, families were not able to say that their sons had been killed in Afghanistan.  Many veterans from the war came back as drug addicts from the black tar heroin that was so prevalent in Afghanistan since opium was one of the few sources of revenue to the country. The veterans’ bad habits and poor morale also did not help the psychological stability of the Soviet Union. This level of censorship caused mistrust of the soviet system and would eventually lead to even more social issues.

The Soviet-Afghan War brought along a lot of questioning of the legitimacy of the Soviet regime within Russia. The public started to wonder if the government was at fault for the current situation the Soviet Union. This continued skepticism ultimately was one of the contributing reasons for the fall of the Soviet Union only a few years after the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Many people throughout the Soviet Union started to blame the problems that were occurring on the home front to the decision to invade Afghanistan and the lack of resolve to finish the fight there. This idea of a lack of confidence in the politicians made the people of the USSR loss faith in the capability to protect and run the country. The lack of confidence also was reflected on the military since they were directly responsible for fighting the war. Many people from the Warsaw Pact countries started to believe that the war was being fought by non-Russians. This was a major issue since the other satellite countries believed that the war was primarily sponsored by the Russian government but they were taking advantage of the satellite nations to do the heavy lifting of the war. This ideology then led to local nationalism in which the Warsaw pact states view themselves as being used by Russia versus being part of the larger soviet state. Some people started to believe that the Soviet Union was focusing too much on the military side and needed to worry about the social and economic issues that were occurring throughout the Soviet Union.

The Soviet economy also took a big hit during the period of the Soviet-Afghan War. The Era of Stagnation was a period between 1964 and 1985 in which the soviet economy slowed down to a virtual halt. No one has ever been able to pinpoint the reason why this happened to the Russian economy. It has been theorized that I might have been caused by the Soviet’s instance on defense spending while others believe that was due to systematic failures as part of the Soviet economic system.

The combination of both social and economic issues that were attributed to the Soviet-Afghan War were some of the major reasons behind the fall of the Soviet Union. The increase of local nationalism due to the combined feelings that Russia was taking advantage of the other Warsaw Pact countries help to spur on their fight for independence. This fight was also aided by the undermined respect of both the Russian government and military. The economic stagnation also forced the Soviet Union to let go of their long held ideas of central economic planning. As you can see, the effects of the Soviet-Afghan war were ultimately a major part of why the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

[1] Lester W. Grau and Michael A. Gress, trans., The Soviet-Afghan War : how a superpower fought and lost(Lawerence: University Press of Kansas,2002)


[2] “Volume II: Afghanistan: Lessons from the Last War Article 19,” The National Security Archive, Accessed May 5, 2015. https://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB57/soviet.html

[3] “Soviet Lists Afghan War Toll: 13,310 Dead, 35,478 Wounded,” New York Times, Accessed May 5, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/05/26/world/soviet-lists-afghan-war-toll-13310-dead-35478-wounded.html

[4] “Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong,” Foreign Policy, Accessed May 5, 2015. http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/06/20/everything-you-think-you-know-about-the-collapse-of-the-soviet-union-is-wrong/

Into Unfriendly Skies

The U-2 incident was one of the most galvanizing moments of the Cold war. On May 1st, 1960, Francis Gary Powers took of from a small military base in Pakistan and flew into history. His flight into the soviet union that day became one o the most trival points of the Cold war including placing it among the Cuban missile crisis.


The overflights of the Soviet Union had been going on for over 4 years before the time Powers was shot down in 1960. At first President Eisenhower was so hesitant that he had contact the British to see if they could fly the U-@- across the Soviet Union Just so it would have not been as bad of a fall out as if they were exclusively flown by Americans.  Once so overflights were completed the President felt even better about the spy flights since he was finally able to see over the iron curtain.

One of the primary reasons the U-2 was used for this mission was because they were able to fly 13 miles above the surface of the earth and there fore prevented the planes from being attack by both Surface to Air missiles (SAMs) or manned aircraft. The frustrating part for the Russians was the fact that the Russians could pick up these planes on radar but were not able to do anything about them. In early 1960, Russia began using a new surface to air missile, the S-75 Dvina, which was specifically made as a high altitude missile poised to be used against the U-2.

S-75 Dvina surface to air missile  Source: wikipedia

President Eisenhower had set a stop date for Powers’ CIA overflight for set for May 1st since later that month the UK, France, United States, and the Soviet Union were set to meet to discuss peace at the Four Powers summit. President Eisenhower was worried that a overflight to close to the Summit could destroy trust between the nations. As, the deadline drew closer there was bad weather over Russia and Powers’ overflight was delayed till May 1st.

The United States then lost contact with powers as he flew over central Russia. The United States then started to play cover story that the U-2 was a weather plane that got lost and wandered into Soviet airspace after the announcement that was broadcast by the Russians. What the Americans didn’t know was the fact that the Soviets had  recovered both Gary Powers as well as his plane with most of the sensitive materials intact. This fatal misstep on the part of the american caused a media firestorm and a field day for the Soviets since they claimed that america was being deceitful since they had the proof with Gary powers as well as the film that was recovered from the crash site.

The Cover up plot greatly influenced the Four power summit with Krushchev only being at the summit for one day with just enough time to smear the Americans for their blatant act of spying on the Soviet Union. A month later they put Gary Powers on trial in Moscow for spying against the Soviets and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. This is a pretty cool article from a soviet newspaper about the trial.



The Gary Powers’ trial was the last major smearing from the U-2 incident. Khrushchev never again trusted the west in any attempts to make peace and set the stage for the rest of the Cold war. Gary Powers was released a year and a half later in a prisoner transfer on the Glienicke Bridge which is also known as the Bridge of Spies for its use as prisoner exchange point during the cold war.









A Battle for Stalin Himself

Probably one of the most influential points of the war for the Soviets was the Battle of Stalingrad. It is important to note that not only was it was a military victory but it also made a statement to the country about the successes of the Soviet system. I choose the Battle of Stalingrad not just because it was by far one of the most published events on the eastern front but also the cities namesake of Stalin himself. For this reason the battle was immensely personally to Stalin since the city was a beckon of little to show off the accomplishments of the Soviet economy. For this reason Stalin enacted the Order No. 227 which was termed the “Not One Step Back” policy in which officers were to shoot there retreating forces as a hope to prevent mass retreats. Later on “not one Step back became a rallying cry for the Soviets as a way to show pride in the Great Patriotic war.

Soviet stamp quoting"Not One Step Back" Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_No._227

Soviet stamp quoting”Not One Step Back” Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_No._227

Over the course of the battle the city of Stalingrad was completely turn to rubble by both sides bombing  and using artillery on each other’s positions throughout the city. Over the course of the battle the entire city was demolished with full blocks being leveled. A great video to show this can be found on this page:


That video then goes on to show the other stages of the Battle of Stalingrad. Once the Germans did engage in fighting in Stalingrad the German offensive became bogged down by the fact that the rubble from the city did not allow them to utilize their heavy tanks and blitzkrieg tactics. From here the Soviet war machine took over and through their use of superior numbers as well as and manufacturing prowess thanks to the Soviet system the Russians bled the German Army. The Russian Army was also able to encircle the Germans in the city cutting off there supply lines causing terrible low amounts of supplies which combined with the onset of winter caused miserable conditions for the Germans within Stalingrad. An unknown German said:

“My hands are done for, and have been ever since the beginning of December. The little finger of my left hand is missing and – what’s even  worse – the three middle fingers of my right one are frozen. I can only hold my mug with my thumb and little finger. I’m pretty helpless; only when a man has lost any fingers does he see how much he needs then for the smallest jobs. The best thing I can do with the little finger is to shoot with it. My hands are finished.” –Anonymous German soldier 


As one can see the Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle in World War II it does not show it in the scale of the importance it was as a part of morale for the Soviet,After all it was the City of the Soviet leader’s namesake. For one up to this point in the war the Soviets were getting beaten back by the German’s Blitzkrieg tactics as they flashed across the steppes of Russia. The halt of German forces by soviet troops proved to the Soviet people that they could fight and win against the well equipped Germans. The loss of over 850,000 German troops caused a lack of troops that the Germans could not recover from for the rest of the war and therefore is one of the major turning points of the Second World War.






Order No. 227: Stalinist Methods and Victory on the Eastern Front

The Great Turn and the growing industrial scene in the early 1930’s

The Great Turn was the turning point for the Russian economy changing from the New Economic Policy that was instated by Lenin after the multiple revolutions of 1917 and 1922 and that of the New Five year plan that drove the Russian economy into industrialization. Without the change of policy by the Russian government, they would have been completely unprepared for the start of the Second World War. Much of the reasoning that caused the first five year plan was driven out of a fear that the West was gearing up for another invasion of the Soviet Union as many countries began to cut diplomatic ties. These fears drove in the need for Russia to rapidly industrialize and also increase their agricultural production.  There were many effects to the pressure of the Five year plan both politically, socially, and economically. One of the major changes that the first Five Year Plan brought in was the collectivization of farms across Russia in order to increase the production of grains for the nation. This changed cause many social changes for the peasants that worked across the vast plains of Russia. Under the Five Year Plan the leadership of the Kulaks were completely taken out of power as a way to free the peasants from servitude but in generally those that were not put in jail or killed by Stalin’s purges then died from starvation. By forcing collectivization on the peasants many people decided to kill of livestock to try to gain something from their animals instead of putting them into communal farms were they would not get any monetary benefit from them. Also grain production fell by almost half during these years because the lack of leadership and lack of monetary benefit. Also looking up to the poster that is at the top of the post was created by Varvara Stepanova in 1932. This poster was made as a proganda item that depicts the successes of the firs Five Year plan. It’s bold colors show soviet patriotism and has a large depiction of Lenin as a way to pay homage to leader of the great revolution. In red you can see the electric tower which is a symbol of the accomplishments of industrialization that came along because of the Five Year plan. Those benefits were not as felt to those farmers that lived outside of the major urban centers of Russia.

“Stepanova, The Results of the First Five-Year Plan,” accessed February 27, 2016, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/art-between-wars/intl-avant-garde/a/stepanova-the-results-of-the-first-five-year-plan

Schisms of the Russian Church

The Russian church was a major part of everyday culture to much of the population in Russia. Over the early 1920’s the major changes that occurred to the church caused it to lose its grip on the churches hold of power in Russian society. After the actions of Patriarch Tikhon who had condemned the Bolsheviks the relations between the church and the Soviet government became more rocky. After the Bolsheviks were condemned by the church, Lenin and his fellow conspirators came up with a three pronged approach to undermining the churches’ authority. One of these attacks was to take all of the gold and foreign currency away from the people. This action applied to the churches as well and the large amounts of gold that the church controlled. The reasoning behind this was to pay for the lack of food that was plaguing the nation at this time.

After carrying out a number of operations to undermine and split the clergy of the Russian church. This campaign by the Bolsheviks helped to drive religion farther out from the political world and thus opening the door for the Bolsheviks to take more control of Russian politics. The Russian governments stand against the church drove the populations of Russia to split into pro and anti-church units in which sides were harshly divided. This tactic to drive the people of Russia to different sides was used by many fronts during the Russian revolution in order to make the public easier to manipulate.

The Mariinski Canal System


The Mariinskii Canal system where this photo was taken was a system of canals that were constructed to connect the Gulf of Finland and the Volga River. This waterway started construction in 1709 when the Russian were developing their infustructure to connect St. Petersburg with the interior of Russia. This waterway was very important since allowed the movement of goods from the Atlantic into the interior of Russia along the Volga River. This waterway cut the time to travel from Cherepovets to Leningrad from 10-15 days down to 2-3 days allowing for fast travel between the Atlantic and the Volga River.
The photo notes that the crew is from the boat Sheksna which is actually the name of one of the rivers that made up the Mariinskii Canal system. I’m guessing whether that the boat operated along that river only or the entirety of the canal system. The canal system is now renamed as the Volga-Baltic waterway and still operates today. The building of the Mariinski Canal system showed the development of Russia’s interior from the early 1700’s through the 1900’s.