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The Bleeding Wound
The Soviet War in Afghanistan and the Collapse of the Soviet System
Yaacov Ro'i


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March 2022
424 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503628748
Ebook ISBN: 9781503631069

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By the mid-1980s, public opinion in the USSR had begun to turn against Soviet involvement in Afghanistan: the Soviet–Afghan War (1979–1989) had become a long, painful, and unwinnable conflict, one that Mikhail Gorbachev referred to as a "bleeding wound" in a 1986 speech. The eventual decision to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan created a devastating ripple effect within Soviet society that, this book argues, became a major factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In this comprehensive survey of the effects of the war on Soviet society and politics, Yaacov Ro'i analyzes the opinions of Soviet citizens on a host of issues connected with the war and documents the systemic change that would occur when Soviet leadership took public opinion into account. The war and the difficulties that the returning veterans faced undermined the self-esteem and prestige of the Soviet armed forces and provided ample ammunition for media correspondents who sought to challenge the norms of the Soviet system. Through extensive analysis of Soviet newspapers and interviews conducted with Soviet war veterans and regular citizens in the early 1990s, Ro'i argues that the effects of the war precipitated processes that would reveal the inbuilt limitations of the Soviet body politic and contribute to the dissolution of the USSR by 1991.

About the author

Yaacov Ro'i is Professor Emeritus at the Cummings Center for Russian and East European Studies at Tel Aviv University.

"Encyclopedic and compelling, this meticulously researched book synthesizes the latest scholarship on the Soviet Afghan war. With original survey data and the comprehensive analysis of a decade of Soviet media and public opinion, Yaacov Ro'i shows clearly how Soviet participation in the Afghan war undermined faith in Soviet ideals and accelerated the Soviet collapse."

—Karen Petrone, University of Kentucky

"Yaacov Ro'i had the prescience to study the Soviet-Afghan War's effect on veterans and civilians at a time when most observers could only speculate about how the war would affect the USSR and the newly independent states. This book brings his original research into dialogue with new work and materials that have become available in intervening decades. An important and timely study that anyone interested in the region should read."

—Artemy Kalinovsky, Temple University

"Ro'i has done students of the Soviet-Afghan War a great service in synthesizing a wealth of sources and setting out a highly detailed account of the effects of the war, and has done so in a readable style that makes the book accessible for novice and expert alike. This thorough book is a very welcome addition to the field and is set to become a standard work."

—Markus Balázs Göransson, The Russian Review

"Ro'i's gift for weaving a galaxy of sources, and many different methodologies, into one elegant narrative, makes this book unique. It is both an excellent introduction for the more intrepid general reader and, more obviously, a key reference work about the Afghan War and the Soviet 1980s."

—Eren Tasar, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Reckoning with the costs of the Soviet war—in Afghanistan, in the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere—is urgent work, and Ro'i is to be thoroughly commended for undertaking and completing it."

—Robert Rakove, H-Diplo

"Ro'i presents a social history of those who participated in the war: ordinary soldiers, their officers, women, medics, and a high number of Central Asians.... Ro'i is scrupulous in recording the variety of opinions and attitudes, many of them contradictory, toward the war and those who fought in it, who are known as afgantsy."

—Ronald Grigor Suny, H-Diplo

"Reading The Bleeding Wound against the backdrop of the current Russian war in Ukraine, I was struck by numerous parallels between the Soviet war in Afghanistan and what we see every day in accounts of the war in Ukraine. These observations cause not only horror and sadness but incredulity."

—Sarah Mendelson, H-Diplo

"Besides being a fascinating work of scholarship, The Bleeding Wound is also a harrowing reminder of what warfare really is."

—Alessandro Iandolo, H-Diplo

"The Bleeding Wound is a laudable effort, providing a much-needed and extensive overview of how the Soviet-Afghan War changed Soviet society, ideology and institutions."

—Vassily A. Klimentov, Europe-Asia Studies