September 09, 2016

Unsung Heroes: The Soviet Role in the Liberation of Southern Africa

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Unsung Heroes: The Soviet Military and the Liberation of Southern Africa 

Author: Vladimir Shubin Deputy Director of 
the Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of
Sciences, and Professor of History and Politics at the
Russian State University of Humanities. Before joining the
academia he served in the Soviet Armed Forces from 1962 to 
1969, and from the late 1960s was involved in political and
practical support of the liberation movements in Southern
Africa, in particular as Secretary of the Soviet Afro-Asian
Solidarity Committee and head of the Africa Section in the 
CPSU International Department

Published in: Cold War History, Volume 7, Issue 2 May 2007


The history of military co-operation between the
USSR and the liberation movements in Angola, Mozambique,
Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa has still to be written.
The same applies to co-operation with Moscow in the
post-independence period. So far the attempts to do so have
been unsuccessful, not only due to the lack of accessible
documents, but also due to an uncritical attitude to the
available materials. This paper attempts to present a
'factual version of history'. It addresses in particular
the issues of training the African combatants in the USSR,
and the activities of the Soviet teams attached to the ANC,
SWAPO and ZAPU as well as to the armed forces of the
independent African countries. While most of the Russian
archives are still 'sealed off', the author has used oral
history sources and memoirs as an invaluable means of
painting a picture of the Soviet involvement from the early
1960s to 1991.


In recent years serious efforts have been made
to write a history of the liberation struggle in Southern
Africa, in particular by the South Africa Democracy
Education Trust (SADET) and the Archives of Anti-Colonial
Resistance and Liberation Struggle (AACRLS) in Namibia.
However, one issue often remains distorted or is missing,
namely the involvement of the Soviet military in support of
the liberation movements and independent African countries
in Southern Africa.

The history of Soviet relations with the African liberation
movements, especially in the military field, remains rather
obscure. So far, attempts to write such a history have been
unsuccessful, partly due to the shortage of accessible
documents. In fact, for many years all information on
Soviet assistance to freedom fighters, even of a purely
humanitarian nature, was 'hidden' from the public in the
USSR and abroad. It was only in 1970, almost ten years
after the co-operation had commenced that, in an interview
given for Pravda, the head of the Soviet delegation to the
international conference in solidarity with the peoples of
the Portuguese colonies, Professor Vassily Solodovnikov,
clearly stated for the first time that Moscow was supplying
the liberation movements with 'arms, means of transport and
communications, clothes and other goods needed for
successful struggle' and that 'military and civilian
specialists [were] being trained in the USSR'.1 However,
another reason for the absence of an accurate account is a
careless attitude to material that is available. True, most
of the Russian archives are still 'sealed off', but 'bits
and pieces' are nevertheless accessible to researchers.
Besides, in the circumstances, oral history sources and
memoirs are crucial for painting a true picture of Soviet
involvement in the region from the early 1960s to 1991.

The question of military co-operation between the USSR and
the South African liberation movement was raised for the
first time when two prominent leaders of the Congress
movement and South African Communist Party (SACP), Moses
Kotane and Yusuf Dadoo, visited Moscow in late 1961.
Informing their Soviet interlocutors about the situation in
South Africa, they expressed the opinion that

[U]nder the conditions of the reign of terror by the
fascist government which has at its disposal a huge
military and police machinery, the peaceful ways of
reaching the tasks of liberation and revolutionary
movements at present are excluded. The [South African
Communist] Party has decided to proceed from the necessity
of the preparation for the armed forms of struggle.

Their position was supported by the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union (CPSU) International Secretary Boris Ponomarev
and upheld by the Central Committee Secretariat.2 Referring
to their particular request for training of military
instructors, Kotane and Dadoo were informed that Moscow
'would be able to render the SACP possible assistance using
for this, in particular the facilities in some friendly
African countries, for example in Guinea and Ghana'.3
However, it proved problematic to arrange such training.
The issue of the presence of Soviet military personnel in
the African National Congress (ANC) camps was discussed
more than once by South African and Western academics.
Thus, Philip Nel claims that 'training personnel' from the
USSR 'reached the newly established ANC camps in Tanzania
and Zambia' in 1964.4 The source given for this rather
'sensitive' information looks credible - a book by Kurt
Campbell, then a Harvard University fellow (and later the
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence!) published by
Macmillan.5 But Campbell also refers to a secondary source,
a book by the US academic Kenneth Grundy.

Is this a merry-go-round of citation of sources? No, rather
a cul-de-sac, because Campbell's reference to Grundy's book
is irrelevant. Grundy writes about Chinese and Cuban
involvement in training guerrillas in some African
countries and then merely adds one sentence: 'Russian
instructors were also present in early 1960s'.6 He
specifies neither the year, nor the venue, nor the name of
organization that they were involved with; in fact, he does
not mention the ANC at all! The truth is that the Soviet
instructors in the ANC camps appeared only 15 years later,
in 1979. Moreover, this was not in Tanzania or Zambia, but
in Angola. They were sent there at the request of the ANC,
forwarded by Oliver Tambo in October 1978 during the annual
visit of the ANC delegation to Moscow. The person who
became widely known in the ANC as 'Comrade Ivan' -
Vyacheslav Shiryaev - headed the first group which came to
Angola in 1979. He was succeeded by 'Comrade George' (late
German Pimenov), 'Comrade Michael' (Mikhail Konovalenko),
and 'Comrade Victor' (Victor Belush).

The number of Soviet specialists with the ANC gradually
increased and, all in all, more than 200 Soviet specialists
and interpreters were stationed with the Umkhonto new
Sizwe(MK) in Angola in the period 1979-91.7 Soon the group
included specialists on 'military-combat work' ( i.e. the
building of the armed underground), tactics, engineering,
hand-to-hand fighting, communications and communications
equipment repair, as well as medical doctors, interpreters,
etc. The Soviet specialists with the ANC in Angola carried
out what used to be called 'international duty' in the
unhealthy climate and the persistent threat from the
Pretoria-led National Union for the Total Independence of
Angola (UNITA) bands, in the remote camps, which often had
to be moved. Initially these advisers stayed in Angola
alone and their families were only allowed to join them
later. There can be no doubt that the direct involvement of
Soviet officers in training MK personnel both in guerrilla
and conventional warfare helped to raise the level of
combat readiness of ANC armed units and, in particular, of
the organizers of the armed underground.

As to military training of the ANC personnel in the USSR,
it started much earlier. Here again the issue is often
distorted. Terry Bell in his Unfinished Business. South
Africa, Apartheid and Truth, written with Dumisa Ntebeza,
claims that 'there were also reportedly agreements in place
between the US and [the] USSR. These restricted any
military aid provided to the ANC to conventional training
involving artillery and tanks - not much use in the
conditions of the time'.8 The reality is contrary to these
claims. Instead of being conventional military training,
the courses for MK fighters and commanders from the very
beginning included studies in guerrilla warfare. The need
for highly specific guerrilla training was evident and
realized from the very beginning. In June 1963 two MK
groups, totalling about 40 personnel, were sent to the
Soviet Union. Among them was a young university graduate,
Martin Thembesile (Chris) Hani, who spent a year in 1963-64
'in the environs of Moscow', studying in a highly
specialized establishment known among the liberation
movements as the 'Northern Training Centre'. For many years
it was headed by 'General Fyodor', the late Major-General
Fyodor Fedorenko, an ex-World War II guerrilla commander in
the Crimea, who, incidentally, himself went with Liberation
Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) fighters into Mozambique in
1974. Many years later, in 1991, Hani said in an interview:
'How can the working class forget the Soviet Union? I went
to Moscow when I was 21 for military training. I was
accepted there and treated wonderfully.'9 Hani returned to
the USSR for further studies in the early 1970s and that
course helped him greatly during his clandestine stay in
South Africa and his activities in Lesotho. He recalled

We had undergone a course in the Soviet Union on the
principles of forming an underground movement. That was our
training: the formation of the underground movement, then
the building of guerrilla detachments. The Soviets put a
lot of emphasis on the building of these underground
structures, comprising at the beginning very few people.10

Archibald Sibeko shares this opinion and is highly
appreciative of the specialized training he and his friends

We were taught military strategy and tactics, topography,
drilling, use of firearms and guerrilla warfare. We also
covered politics, with heavy emphasis on skills needed
[for] construction and use of explosives, vehicle
maintenance, feeding a mobile army and first aid in the
field: everything necessary for survival under guerrilla

As for large-scale training special courses for ANC
guerrilla commanders and various military specialists, they
were organized in late 1963 at Odessa, on the shores of the
Black Sea. Facilities were available at the local military
college; moreover, this city was famous for its resistance
to the German and Romanian invasion in 1941, and in 1941-44
the catacombs there were used as hideouts by guerrillas.
The first MK group there was headed by Joe Modise, the
future South African Minister of Defence. The Soviet
political leadership closely observed the training of the
first ANC cadres in Odessa. A special group, led by Petr
Manchkha, head of the African Section of the CPSU
International Department, was sent from Moscow in June
1964, and its members were impressed.12 However, while
Manchkha's group expressed satisfaction with the progress
of the training, singling out the strict discipline and
high morale of the ANC cadres, they did note the
limitations of the college as far as the guerrilla training
was concerned.

The need for a specific training establishment suitable for
large contingents of trainees became acute. It was created
in Perevalnoye in the Crimea, near the city of Simferopol.
There, good use was made of the World War II experience of
the Crimean guerrillas, who had operated in mountains,
forest and bush - in other words, in terrain not very
different from Southern Africa. The centre in Perevalnoe
was also used as a site for 'practice' by the freedom
fighters who studied in Moscow. Mosima (Tokyo) Sexwale, a
former MK fighter, political prisoner, post-April 1994
premier of Gauteng province and now a prominent South
African businessman who underwent training in 1975-76,
recalls how 'Colonel [he was promoted later] Fyodor' showed
them war-time trenches and hide-outs when he came to see
the ANC group there.13

In spite of their intelligence services, the South African
government and its friends in the West knew surprisingly
little about the Crimean training facility. Harry Pitman of
the Progressive Party claimed in a speech in parliament
that he knew 'precisely' where the ANC members were
trained. He mentioned two places in the USSR: 'Jijinski in
Northern Russia' and 'Privali in Ukraine'.14 One can only
guess what he meant by 'Jijinski'; there is 'Dzerzhinsk', a
town close to Moscow, but no Umkhonto member has ever been
trained there. Later Pitman's spelling was 'improved' by
Africa Confidential, which wrote: 'The Soviet camps include
Provolye in the Ukraine and Centre 26, near Moscow.'15
Pretoria's police fared no better: Major General F.M.A.
Steenkamp, in his press briefing for accredited foreign
correspondents in 1984, spoke of 'Prvolnye military camp'
and, again, 'Centre 26',16 which, by the way, never
existed. And all this happened while the road sign
'Perevalnoye' ('pereval' means 'pass' in Russian) was
prominently displayed on the mountainous road from
Simferopol to Yalta!

The training of the MK personnel in the USSR continued for
almost three decades, and became increasingly
sophisticated. Let us hear again 'from the horse's mouth',
this time from General Siphiwe Nyanda, the first African
chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
He came to the USSR in 1985, immediately after the Kabwe
Conference of the ANC with the group of the MK commanders,
which included Charles Nqakula who is now Minister of
Safety and Security (and the SACP chairperson) and Nosiviwe
Maphisa-Nqakula, Minister of Home Affairs and the ANC
Women's League president:

In the USSR, we were staying in an apartment on Gorki
Street, Moscow, where the lectures were conducted. For the
practical exercises, we went to a place outside Moscow We
studied MCW (Military and Combat Work) as part of an
abridged Brigade Commanders' course.

(1) The course covered the following subjects, among
others,Communications (2) Underground work- Surveillance-
Secret writing- Secret meetings- Photography (3) Military
work- Ambush- Attack- Artillery effectiveness- Small
armsAll were useful.17

One telling detail: of the first group of ANC commanders
incorporated into the new SANDF in 1994 at the level of
general, everyone underwent military training in the USSR
except one commander who was trained by the Soviets in

The Soviet military co-operation with the ANC continued in
various forms until the radical political changes took
place in Moscow in August 1991 followed by the
'dissolution' of the USSR in December of that year. The
Russian press has calculated that between 1963 and 1991,
1,501 ANC activists were trained in Soviet military
institutions.18 However, this figure is not all-inclusive
and the total number was well above 2,000. The most
striking example of co-operation and mutual trust was
Soviet involvement in Operation Vula, aimed at the creation
of the armed underground network inside South Africa which
began in 1987-88 and extended into the post February-1990
period.19 Let us hear once more from General Nyanda:

The Moscow visit of 1988 was the final leg of my
preparation to infiltrate the RSA. It afforded me the
opportunity to brush up on my disguises and gain more
confidence in these From an operational point of view, the
Moscow leg was probably the most important for my cover
story. Without exception, those who were not privy to the
information believed I was in the Soviet Union for
[military] studies. The enemy therefore never expected me
to be right on his doorstep!20

Moscow's military co-operation with the South West African
People's Organisation (SWAPO) and its military wing - the
People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) developed in a
similar way. Most of the top commanders of the PLAN studied
in the USSR, including Charles Namoloh (his nom de guerre
was 'Ho Chi Minh'), the recently appointed Namibian
Minister of Defence. Many hundreds of PLAN fighters were
trained in the USSR (including three sons of Sam Nujoma) -
in the 'Northern' centre, in Perevalnoe as well as in
Solnechnogorsk, at the famous Vystrel Higher Officer
Courses near Moscow.

Apart from military training in the USSR, from 1977 a group
of the Soviet military specialists stayed with PLAN in
Lubango, in the south of Angola. Its most popular chief (in
1979-83) was 'Colonel Nikolay' (Nikolay Kurushkin, later
Major-General and head of the 'Northern Centre'). The
mission of the Soviet specialists and advisors was
primarily training of the PLAN personnel. However, it
appears that their duties in the field sometimes went far
beyond this. I recall how in March 1991, on the first
anniversary of Namibian independence, we went to the north
of the country, adjacent to the Angolan border, together
with 'Colonel Nikolay' and General Namoloh, then the Army
Chief of Staff. When we reached Oshakati, Namoloh said to
Nikolay: 'You see, it is such a nice place. And you always
told me: "Attack Oshakati, attack Oshakati".'

In the final stage of the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe,
a similar group, headed by the late Colonel Lev Kononov,
was stationed in Zambia. In addition, hundreds of fighters
of the ZAPU wing of the Patriotic Front underwent training
with the Soviet specialists in Angola in the late 1970s.
They were in the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU)
camp when it was bombed by the Rhodesian Air Force in 1979
and one of them, Warrant Officer Grigory Skakun, died after
being hit by a cluster bomb containing ball bearings.21
Military training of Zimbabweans took place in various
areas of the USSR as well. I watched how they braved a
snow-covered field in Perevalnoe when I accompanied Joshua
Nkomo, the ZAPU leader and co-president of the Zimbabwe
Patriotic Front, on a visit there. 'If Ian Smith were to
see it', somebody joked, 'he would immediately surrender.'

In all three cases, for MK, PLAN and the Zimbabwe People's
Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), it was Angola which served as a
reliable rear base. However, before the country could play
such a role, it faced almost a decade and a half of hard
anti-colonial struggle. The late Petr Evsyukov (known to
his African friends as 'Camarada Pedro') who had been
responsible for contacts with the liberation movements of
the Portuguese colonies in the CPSU International
Department, recalls in his memoirs that after the first
representatives of the Popular Movement for the Liberation
of Angola (MPLA) - Mario de Andrade and Viriato da Cruz -
came to Moscow 'in the second half of 1961', 'an important
decision to begin multi-sided assistance to the
organisation was taken'.22 Then, some months later,
Agostinho Neto managed to escape from Portugal and also
'immediately came to Moscow. The negotiations with him
ended quite successfully'.23

The assistance was very versatile. 'Camarada Pedro' recalls
a fascinating incident. In urgent cases the leadership of
the liberation movements who knew his nom de guerre, 'Pedro
Dias', and the number of his post office box could send him
a letter by ordinary international mail. So, once a letter
arrived from Agostinho Neto, who complained about the
shortage of cartridges for Soviet-made TT pistols and asked
for them to be sent urgently. 'To confirm his request and
to avoid a mistake he enclosed a cartridge in an envelope.
This was probably the only case in the history of the
postal service.'24

With the beginning of the armed struggle in Mozambique the
liberation movement FRELIMO also began to receive military
supplies from the USSR and to send its personnel for
training there. In fact, my first trip to sub-Saharan
Africa was in January 1967 to Dar es Salaam. Our mission
was to bring Mozambicans for training in Perevalnoe and
many years later I heard from the Mozambican military
attaché that among them was Joachim Chissano, a future

The assistance to MPLA, FRELIMO and other liberation
movements was co-ordinated by the CPSU Central Committee
(CC) through its International Department while several
government bodies were involved. An important step was a
trip by a group of Soviet officials to several independent
African countries in early 1967. Evsyukov writes: 'an
urgent necessity arose to evaluate the state and prospects
of this [anti-colonial] war, to try to study the situation
on the spot, if not inside these countries [Angola,
Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau] at least from the territory
of the neighbouring states' to help the CPSU CC 'to
determine the line on our co-operation and policy in the
region'.25 The group members were Manchkha, Evsyukov,
Gennady Fomin, Head of one of the African Departments of
the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and Vadim
Kirpichenko, his counterpart in the KGB, the future first
deputy head of the PGU - Soviet political intelligence. The
trip resulted in 'the Politbureau's decision on our further
policy towards African countries, in particular, on our
all-round support to the militant nationalists in the
Portuguese colonies'.26 The group was primarily political
and did not include a representative of the Soviet Ministry
of Defence. Nevertheless, with the intensification of the
armed struggle in the Portuguese colonies and the beginning
of fighting in Namibia and Zimbabwe from the mid-late
1960s, the military had increasingly to play a larger role
in Moscow's co-operation with the liberation movements. For
many years these activities were co-ordinated by
Major-General Ivan Plakhin, a World War II veteran, who
personally visited the liberated areas of Mozambique and
Guinea-Bissau in the early 1970s and Angola in the first
days of February 1976, during the South African
intervention in the country.

However, by the time of the April 1974 Portuguese
revolution which opened the prospects for Angola's rapid
transition to independence, Moscow's relations with Neto's
MPLA were at their lowest ebb. They were drastically
affected by Neto's unity agreement in December 1972 with
its arch-rival - the CIA-sponsored Holden Roberto, leader
of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) -
and by the split within the MPLA that followed this step.
It was broad support for the MPLA and personally for Neto,
demonstrated after the April 1974 Portuguese revolution
inside Angola that made the situation clearer. In December
1974 Moscow received the MPLA military delegation headed by
Henrique (Iko) Carreira, the future Angolan Minister of
Defence, who spoke about the MPLA's 'weakness from the
military point of view' and emphasized the need for Soviet
assistance.27 Several 'fact-finding' missions and later
solidarity visits by the Soviets to Angola also helped,
such as a trip ostensibly 'to study the local educational
system' by Naval Captain Alexey Dubenko (future
Rear-Admiral and the first Soviet military attaché in
Angola) in early 1975.

Moscow supported the Alvor agreements of January 1975
between the MPLA, FNLA and UNITA. However, against the
background of growing assistance to the MPLA's rivals from
the West, South Africa, Zaire and, for a certain period,
from China, supplies to the MPLA were resumed. In
particular, a core of the brigade, manned by MPLA
activists, underwent a crash course of training in
Solnechnogork and Perevalnoe.28 The most crucial moment in
Soviet-Angolan relations was the eve of Angolan
independence. Georgy Kornienko, later the First Deputy
Foreign Minister, writes in his memoirs: 'In the Angolan
episode of the "Cold War", like in the majority of its
episodes , Washington said "A", but in this case as well,
Moscow did not refrain for a long time from saying "B".'29
Kornienko believes that with the worsening of
Soviet-American relations related to Angola, in particular
advance in the talks on strategic arms stopped;
correspondingly, Brezhnev's visit to the USA was postponed
and then cancelled.30 However, I share the opinion of
Ambassador Vladillen Vasev, the former Soviet Deputy Head
of Mission (DHM) in Washington and then head of the
Southern African Department at the Soviet MFA, who believed
that if not Angola, the US would have found another excuse
for 'cooling off' relations with Moscow.31

According to Kornienko, on the eve of Angolan independence
when 'the civil war, provoked by the USA actions, began to
flare up', the Soviet MFA together with the Ministry of
Defence and the KGB prepared a proposal, approved 'by and
large' by the CPSU Politburo,32 to provide the MPLA with
all kinds of political support and 'certain material
support' but not to get involved in the civil war in Angola
'in the military sphere'. However, only a few days later
the CPSU International Department headed by Ponomarev,
having secured initially the signatures of Marshal Grechko
(the Defence Minister) and KGB Chairman Andropov, managed
also to get Gromyko's support for the satisfaction of the
MPLA's's requests to (still limited) arms supplies.33

The idea that Moscow instigated Cuba to send its troops to
Angola, which for many years proved so popular among
Western leaders and the mass media, has been shown to be a
fallacy. For example, Kornienko and his 'boss' Andrei
Gromyko, as well as Grechko and Andropov, only found out
about the Cuban combat troops airlifted to Angola through a
message from the Soviet Ambassador to Guinea informing
Moscow of the impending landing of the Cuban planes in
Conakry.34 However, the Cubans had previously informed
Moscow about the first stage of their involvement. I recall
that Manchkha told Nujoma in Moscow of the forthcoming
arrival of 500 Cuban instructors in Angola.35 As to the
actual presence of the Soviet military in Angola, Dubenko,
who returned to Luanda in October, was joined by Boris
Putilin on independence day. Putilin was then the first
secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Brazzaville (now a
veteran of Military Intelligence and a retired colonel),
and accompanied Ambassador Afanasenko as a member of the
official Soviet delegation. The first group of Soviet
military instructors, headed by Captain Evgeny Lyashchenko,
left Moscow on 31 October on a regular Aeroflot flight and
arrived in Brazzaville the following day. This group had a
purely defensive mission - to train Angolans in the use of
'Strela' ('Arrow') portable anti-aircraft missile
launchers. A week later the group was transferred to
Point-Noir and on 16 November joined a larger group of
instructors headed by Colonel Vassily Trofimenko, which
landed there on the way to Angola. So, five days after the
proclamation of Angola's independence, over 40 Soviet
military specialists arrived in Luanda.36

The Soviet involvement in Angola produced many 'unsung
heroes'. The name of the Deputy Commander of Air Transport
Wing from the town of Ivanovo, who risked his life and the
lives of his crew to airlift two Katyusha rocket launchers
from Brazzaville to Point-Noir, where the runway was unfit
for the heavy Antonov transport aircraft, has yet to be
revealed. These same rocket launchers were further moved by
a Cuban ship to Luanda and played a critical role in
rebuffing the attack of Mobutu/FNLA troops against Luanda
at the time. According to General Roberto Monteiro 'Ngongo'
(the former Angolan Ambassador in Moscow and now Minister
of the Interior), all in all, over 6,000 Soviets came to
Angola 'to teach in military schools and academies and to
train our regular units' and over 1,000 Soviet military
visited it for 'shorter periods of time', while 6,965
Angolans underwent military training in the Soviet Union.37
Figs. provided by the Moscow Institute of Military History
are even higher: 'up to 1 January 1991 10,985 Soviet
military advisors and specialists visited Angola, including
107 generals and admirals, 7,211 officers, 1,083
warrant-officers and midshipmen, 2,116 sergeants, petty
officers and privates and 468 civilian employees of the
Soviet Army and Navy'; 6,985 Angolans were trained in
Soviet/Russian 'military educational institutions' up to 1
January 1995.38

The role of the Soviet military in Angola (most of whom
served with the Angolan armed forces, but some with the
ANC, SWAPO, and ZAPU) is grossly distorted by many Western
and South African authors, either because of their
ignorance or, perhaps, because there has been too much
reliance on faulty intelligence sources. Thus, a British
academic (and a former editor of African Confidential)
Stephen Ellis and his co-author, a renegade from the ANC
and SACP who used the pen-name 'Sechaba' ('People'),
claimed in their book Comrades against Apartheid that in
September 1987 the Angolan government offensive against the
SADF-backed UNITA was 'supervised in part by a Soviet
General Konstantin Shaganovitch'.39 Indeed, there had been
an earlier Soviet Chief Military Adviser in Angola whose
family name was similar - Shakhnovich - although his first
name was Vassily and not Konstantin. The General left
Angola for the USSR in 1980 and died in Moscow not long
afterwards. One of Shakhnovich's successors was
Lieutenant-General (from 1983, Colonel-General) Konstantin
Kurochkin, First Deputy Commander of the Soviet
Paratroopers. So it seems that Ellis and 'Sechaba' managed
to merge someone dead with someone living. Kurochkin
himself left Luanda in 1985 though, according to him, he
subsequently paid several short visits to Luanda.40 Fred
Bridgland, a well-known British journalist, went even
further: he took 'General Shaganovitch's offensive' as the
title for a whole section of his book describing military
actions in Angola. Moreover, the non-existent 'Konstantin
Shaganovitch', according to Bridgland, was 'a known
chemical warfare expert', and this is used to substantiate
the claim that the Angolan brigade which faced the SADF had
'chemical weapons in its armoury'.41 On the contrary, it
was South African troops that used chemical weapons in
Angola. At the same time Bridgland (and his friends)
grossly miscalculated the number of the Soviet military in
Angola: 'Intelligence agencies estimated that Shaganovitch
had about 950 fellow Soviets in command and training posts
in Angola',42 while the commanding officer, General
Kurochkin said that the strength of 'the Soviet advisory
apparatus' was 'about 2 thousand persons'.43

The Soviets suffered casualties in Southern Africa,
especially in Angola. According to General 'Ngongo', 15
Soviet military (including aircraft crew members) had been
killed in Angola in the period up to 1991.44 Russian
military historians state that by the same date 51 persons
were killed or died and 10 were wounded.45 The 'battle of
Cuito-Cuanavale' in 1987-88 was particularly gruelling. Two
Soviet officers - Colonel Gorb and Lieutenant Snitko -
sacrificed their lives while assisting Angolan government
forces to rebuff Pretoria's troops. The defeat of South
Africa and UNITA at Cuito-Cuanavale and the advance of
Cuban, Angolan and SWAPO forces towards the Namibian border
was possible to a large extent due to supplies of modern
Soviet equipment. An extensive Air Defence system based on
the Soviet-made anti-aircraft missiles was created in
Southern Angola and MIG-23 and SU-22 aircraft proved to be
superior to South African weaponry. These developments
created favourable conditions for the completion of talks
on the settlement in South-Western Africa which opened the
way for the independence of Namibia in 1989 and, in the
long run, for the abolition of apartheid in South Africa
itself in 1994. In the words of former USSR Deputy Foreign
Minister Anatoly Adamishin, who took part in these talks:

If we hadn't come to the assistance of the MPLA, seven
thousand miles from our borders, who would have benefited
from it? Little doubt, it would have been the RSA What
would further developments in the region have been, if the
racist RSA had grabbed Angola in addition to Namibia? How
many more years would her domination by force over the
region have continued? How many more years would apartheid
have survived?46

A final note. Moscow's support to the movements and
independent countries in Southern Africa in military
matters was especially important because it was often
provided at the time when or in the areas and where other
countries were unable or unwilling to help. Moreover, I am
convinced that the Soviet Union's contribution was not
limited to training and material assistance, but resulted
also in the encouragement of non-racialism in Southern Africa, and a
special contribution in this respect was made by the Soviet
instructors in  Africa and the staff of the Soviet military training


[1] Pravda, 7 July 1970.

[2] Russian State Archive of Modern History (hereafter -

Collection 4, inventory 18, file 1017, 61-3. Decisions
taken by the

instruction of the Secretaries of the CPSU Central
Committee without

 recording in the minutes, N 478, 28
November 1961.

 [3] Russian State Archive of Modern
History (hereafter - RSAMH),

 Collection 4, inventory 18,
file 1017, 61-3. Decisions taken by the

 instruction of
the Secretaries of the CPSU Central Committee without

recording in the minutes, N 478, 28 November 1961Ibid.

[4] Nel, Soviet Embassy in Pretoria?, 43.

Campbell, Soviet Policy Towards South Africa, 41.

Grundy, Guerilla Struggle in Africa, 51.

 [7] Segodnya,
Moscow, no. 5, 1993.

 [8] Bell with Ntebeza, Unfinished
Business, 119.

 [9] Star, Johannesburg, 11 September

 [10] Echo, 21 February 1990.

 [11] Echo, 21
February 1990Ibid.

 [12] Discussion with V.
Shemyatenkov, Moscow, 6 January 1997.

later ambassador and now a prominent academic, was

responsible for contacts with the SACP and ANC in the CPSU

 International Department in 1961-66.

Discussion with Mosima Sexwale, Moscow, 16 October 2005.

 [14] Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg, 21 May 1982.

[15] Africa Confidential, London, 10 December 1986.

[16] Press briefing for accredited foreign correspondents
on the

 history, aims, activities and the level of threat
posed by the ANC.

 By Maj. Gen. F. M. A. Steenkamp, SA
Police. In The Auditorium, HF

 Verwoerd Building, Cape
Town, 9.00, 8 February 1984, 30.

 [17] Siphiwe Nyanda
to Vladimir Shubin, 10 December 2002.

 [18] Segodnya,
no. 3, 1993.

 [19] This operation is described in
Kasrils, Armed and Dangerous and

 Jenkin, Talking to
Vula; for the Soviet involvement see Shubin, ANC:

 A View
from Moscow, 332-8, 360, 381.

 [20] Siphiwe Nyanda to
Vladimir Shubin, 10 December 2002.

 [21] Rossiya (SSSR)
v voinah vtoroi poloviny XX veka, 436.

 [22] "Memoirs <

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