December 25, 2016
A New Year’s Story
The previous text set off a storm of emotions. I was told I should clear out of “our” country, accused of insanity, named every name in the book, given advice (I really love that), and chided, of course, for my “Afghan” past. Since that’s how it’s going to be, here’s a New Year’s story for you on the topic.
I rang in 1989 at the 345th Guards Airborne Regiment, one of the toughest in Afghanistan. Its battalions were constantly sent into combat, and it was the rare operation in which they were not involved. They would return to base flying the regimental flag. That was not in the regulations. The regimental commander, Valery Vostrotin or, “Cap,” as they called him, thought that up. After his first wound in the literal sense, the surgeons sewed him up like an old sock, and he came back “over the river”for a second tour of duty, this time sporting a Hero of the Soviet Union Star. The soldiers adored Cap. His photo, clipped from newspapers, hung over many a man’s cot in the barracks. I had never seen anything like it.
We became friends in Khost, during the same operation [Magistral] on which the plot of the film The 9th Company is based. The 9th Company is part of the 345th Regiment, after all. Valera had commanded it himself once upon a time. Under his command, the 9th had been involved in storming Hafizullah Amin’s palace.
I cannot convey what the New Year’s celebration was like. The airborne troops pummeled the sky with everything that could and could not shoot. The commander made the rounds of all the battalions. As his guest, I tailed him, and then we stayed up and talked all night. It was then that he autographed this playing card “in pledge of [a] long friendship.”
When we said goodbye the next day, I recited him Igor Morozov’s lyrics to the song “We’re Going,” which was gaining popularity but had not made it yet to Bagram Airfield: “From once-conquered heavenly peaks we descend charred steps to earth.” There is a line in that song: “And we haven’t finished our business yet, but we’re going, going, going.”
Vostrotin listened and paused before saying bitterly, “We never had any ‘business’ in Afghanistan.”
By the way, it was Vostrotin who did not storm the Russian White House in 1991. He flew the Volgrad Division, which he was then commanding, to Kubinka Air Base, but when they had traveled as far as the Moscow Ring Road, he stopped, and did not advance any farther.
We had no “business” in Afghanistan. And we don’t have any in Syria.
* “Amongst the people killed on board the plane that crashed were Anton Gubankov, the Defense Ministry’s ‘minister of culture’ and his staff member Oksana Badrutdinova. Really good people… The plane, the ambassador, and dozens of servicemen. And there will be more. We have no business in Syria.”
Mikhail Kozhukhov is a well-known Soviet and Russian journalist and television presenter. In 1999–2000, he served as Vladimir Putin’s press secretary. Translated by the Russian Reader