The highly decorated general sat opposite his commander in chief and explained the problems his army faced fighting in the hills around Kabul: “There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” he said. “Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize.
In the 1980s, the Polish economist Bronislaw Kaminski used to make an observation that confused liberal, leftist and even some conservative intellectuals in the West. Communism, he argued, was not a good idea implemented badly, but a terrible idea implemented surprisingly well.
Mikhail Gorbachev called Afghanistan “our bleeding wound”. Why hasn’t Nato learned from the Soviet Union. In May 1985, two months after Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he sent one of his cleverest generals to Kabul on an urgent, secret mission. The name of General Zaitsev is unlikely to be well known to today's Nato commanders, but perhaps it should be. Back then he was the Red Army's most senior military planner and logistics expert, and Gorbachev ordered him to provide an honest answer to the question: can the USSR win the war in Afghanistan? He returned to Moscow swiftly with a simple answer: no.
Twenty years after the wall fell, Mikhail Gorbachev is quietly celebrated in the west, but shunned in Moscow. Yet in both places his reputation rests on his failure to reform the dying system in which he truly believed.
Hungary is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the uprising against the Russians. Victor Sebestyen, whose family left Hungary when he was a young child, has written a book about the 1956 uprising. He says that despite the passing years, there is still an uneasy relationship with Russia.