Gromov is currently governor of the Moscow region, but during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, he did three tours of duty (1980-1982, 1985-1986, 1987-1989), and was best known for his two years as the last Commander of the 40th Army in Afghanistan. Gromov was the last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan, crossing on foot the Friendship Bridge spanning the Amu-Daria river on 15-Feb-1989, the day the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan was completed. He received the highest military award – the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union - after Operation Magistral had lifted the siege of the city of Khost in eastern Afghanistan.
Dmitry Rogozin is Russia’s ambassador to NATO. His background, too, is of interest. In 2003, Dmitry Rogozin became one of the leaders of the Rodina (Motherland) "national-patriotic" coalition. Under Rogozin, Rodina shifted towards the far right wing of Russian politics and became one of the country's most successful parties.
When I read the original article, the advice from the Russians struck me as unusually solicitous.
I think that's what Michael Cohen had in mind when he wrote his brief rejoinder, The Story of Boris and Dmitry - A Play in One Act , in which he tries to reconstruct how this article came to be written. It goes like this:
Boris Gromov (governor of the Moscow region and commander of the 40th Soviet Army in Afghanistan) and Dmitry Rogozin (Russian Ambassador to NATO) are having a drink in a smoky Moscow bar.
Well it seems the Europeans are increasingly concerned about the war in Afghanistan; they are no longer convinced that it is in their national interest to fight an intractable war with the Taliban. I worry Boris . . . they might want to bring their troops home.
Yes, it is very concerning. After all if NATO isn't bleeding themselves in Afghanistan they might turn their attention to Mother Russia. Better to be bogged down in South Asia than poking their heads into the Caucuses or Ukraine.
I have a thought. Let's write an op-ed for the New York Times in which we argue that NATO must stay in Afghanistan . . . . let me say . . . . what's the right phrase . . . ?
How about, "until the necessary conditions are provided to establish state local authorities capable of independently deterring radical forces and controlling the country."
Yes, that's it! And what's more, we could challenge the very manhood of NATO; call them "peace-loving" and selfish for not sending their young men to fight in a country that is of tangential importance to their national interests.
[Much laughing and guffawing ensues.]
How about we say that if NATO doesn't stay and fight it will be a "moment of truth" for NATO and the alliance might not survive. We can ever use the phrase "raison d'etre." I love that expression!
You know maybe it's the vodka talking, but why don't we also write that a "pullout would give a tremendous boost to Islamic militants, destabilize the Central Asian republic and set off flows of refugees, including many thousands to Europe and Russia?
[More merriment ensures.]
You know, Dmitry, this is a brilliant idea. But as long as we are arguing that NATO should stay, why don't we also whitewash the history of the Soviet occupation Afghanistan?
Well we could say that "we were fighting against the father of today's Taliban militants face-to-face, whereas Western armies prefer to fight from air."
[A long pause]
But Boris, this is not correct. Everyone knows that we dropped millions of mines on Afghanistan, specifically targeting civilians. We conducted air strikes and regular artillery barrages that killed ever more civilians. An estimated one million people died. The Americans try to do the opposite. Why would a fine paper like the New York Times allow us to make such an argument in their pages?
Dmitry, the Americans have short attention spans - our war was more than 20 years ago. Who remembers these things?
Maybe you are right. But you know if we're going to write something like that; we should really double down and also say that we "managed to deter the onslaught of Islamic fundamentalists for a full 10 years".
Oh Dmitry; now you go to far. Didn't our war in Afghanistan actually encourage and embolden Islamic fundamentalists?
Readers, please don't inquire why I didn't reproduce the original article. Didn't Shakespeare have Hamlet say,
I'll have grounds
More relative than this—the play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.