18 March 1979* (No 242) Kosygin-Taraki

Transcript of KOSYGIN’s March telephone conversation with MOHAMMED TARAKI, Afghan prime minister. File also includes report by Gromyko, Andropov, Ponomarev and Kosygin and 29 June Politburo decision [Russian: 18 March 1979, No 242] total 19 pp (excerpts).


[page one of nineteen]

Top Secret;
Special File


by telephone between A.N. Kosygin [note 1] and N.M. Taraki, the General Secretary of the Afghanistan Popular Democratic Party, chairman of the Revolutionary Council and Prime Minister.

18 March 1979

The conversation was conducted through a Soviet translater in Kabul, assistant to Lieutenant-General Gorelov, chief military adviser.

KOSYGIN. Tell Comrade Taraki that I wish to send him warm greetings from Leonid Ilych [Brezhnev] and all members of the Politburo.

TARAKI. Thank you very much.

KOSYGIN. How is Comrade Taraki’s health? He is not getting very tired?

TARAKI. I’m not tired. Today we had a meeting of the Revolutionary Council.

KOSYGIN. That’s good, I’m very pleased. Please ask Comrade Taraki to outline the situation in Afghanistan.

TARAKI. The situation is bad and getting worse. …

KOSYGIN. Do you have support among the workers, the petty bourgeoisie and the white collar employees in Herat? Is there anyone still on your side?

TARAKI. There is no active support from the population. It is almost wholly under the influence of Shiite slogans. “Do not follow the godless, follow us” – that is the basis of their propaganda.

KOSYGIN. What’s the population in Herat?

TARAKI. 200-250,000 inhabitants. They act according to the situation. They follow where they are led. Now they are on the side of the enemy.

KOSYGIN. Are there many workers there?

TARAKI. Very few — 2,000 in all.

KOSYGIN. What are the prospects, in your view, in Herat?

TARAKI. We believe that this evening or tomorrow morning Herat will fall and be wholly controlled by the enemy. …

Propaganda must be combined with practical assistance. I propose that you put Afghan markings on your tanks and aircraft, no one will be any the wiser. Your troops could advance from the direction of Kushka and from Kabul.

KOSYGIN. We still have to get to Kabul.

TARAKI. Kushka is a very short distance away from Herat. Troops could be moved to Kabul by plane. If you send troops to Kabul and they move on Herat from Kabul, no one will be any the wiser. They will think they are government troops.

KOSYGIN. I do not want to disappoint you, but it will not be possible to conceal this. Within two hours the whole world will know. Everyone will start shouting that the Soviet Union has begun to intervene in Afghanistan. Tell me, Comrade Taraki, if we quickly airlift weapons to Kabul, including tanks, will you find tank-drivers or not?

TARAKI. Very few.

KOSYGIN. How many?

TARAKI. I do not have exact details.

KOSYGIN. If we quickly airlifted tanks to you, the necessary ammunition, and gave you mortars, can you find the specialists who know how to use these weapons?

TARAKI. I can’t answer this question. The Soviet advisers could give an answer.

KOSYGIN. One might think that Afghanistan does not have well-trained military personnel, or very few. Hundreds of Afghan officers were trained in the Soviet Union. Where did they all go to? …

We have decided to deliver military equipment to you urgently and to take your helicopters and aircraft for repairs. All that will be free of charge. We have also decided to deliver 100,000 tons of grain to you and to raise the price we pay for your gas from $21 per cubic meter to $37.82.

TARAKI. That’s good, but let’s talk of Herat.

KOSYGIN. Let’s. Could you not now form several divisions in Kabul from among progressive people whom you can trust, and not just in Kabul but also in other places? We would provide the necessary weapons.

TARAKI. We don’t have the officers. Iran is sending soldiers to Afghanistan in civilian clothing. Pakistan is also sending its people and officers in Afghan clothes. Why can’t the Soviet Union send Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmens in civilian clothing? No one will recognize them.

KOSYGIN. What else have you to say about Herat?

TARAKI. We want you to send us Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmens so they can drive tanks, since we have all these nationalities in Afghanistan. Let them put on Afghan costume and wear Afghan badges and no one will recognize them. It’s very easy work, in our view. …



For more in translation see Documents on the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: CWIHP e-dossier No. 4 (November 2001), pp 40-41.

[1] A.N. Kosygin (1904-1980) became Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers (i.e. Soviet “prime minister”) in 1964 after Khrushchev was ousted as Party leader. The last two years before his death in December 1980 were marred by bad health.

See Short Biographies for identity and positions of Afghan, Soviet and other officials


  • 1. Notes and additions by translator and editor are bracketed, thus [ ];
  • 2. Text added by hand is indicated in italic script;
  • 3. when a handwritten phrase, figure or word has been added to a previously typed document it is indicated by underlined italic script.

Translation, JC

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