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A soldier’s pension declared Missing in Action

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Mícheál Walsh

German Anisimov, a Red Army veteran spent over a year as a captive of Afghan tribesmen and ended up in Switzerland with the aid of the Red Cross. Returning to his motherland two years later, he has finally achieved the status of a combat veteran. 

From 1979 to 1989, President Leonid Brezhnev’s Red Army occupied Afghanistan. It took ten years of grinding insurgency before Moscow finally withdrew. The conflict cost millions of lives and billions of dollars. The Soviets left behind them a shattered country in which the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group, seized control and would soon afterwards provide Osama bin Laden with a training base from which to launch terrorist operations worldwide.

After an unexpected refusal to provide benefits from the military commission of the Central Military District which considered his case last year, German Anisimov turned to the central apparatus of the Ministry of Defense, and then to the court. Before considering the claim, the commission of the Central Military District finally admitted their mistake. Anisimov’s right to status and benefits was recently confirmed by the court 33 years after the retreat from Kabul.

The soldier’s trail of misfortune began when as a native of the small village of Tuarma, Samara Region, he was conscripted into the Soviet army along with his twin brother in the fall of 1980. In 1981 they were sent to serve in Afghanistan, where for a year and a half the USSR had provided armed support to local authorities.

In September 1981, near Kabul, during an attack on a checkpoint, Anisimov was captured. He recalls: ‘At first, they dragged me around the villages for two or three weeks, kicked me, spat on me, put me against the wall several times, yelled constantly. A few days earlier, the tribesmen had a Tajik, also our prisoner. They shot him, but for some reason, they did not stop me. 

He picks up the story: ‘A few weeks later I was taken to Pakistan where he twice managed to escape from captivity. The second time I was able to get into Afghanistan, but they caught me, again they took me to Pakistan on a donkey. After that, there were various prisons in Pakistan. In total, I spent about a year in captivity with the Mujahideen,’ Anisimov recalled.

‘The USSR demanded that he and other prisoners be immediately returned to their homeland, but human rights activists in the West strongly opposed it, and the situation stalled. As a result, they found a kind of compromise: the guys had to spend two years under supervision in a disciplinary unit and then return home. The Mujahideen offered to place prisoners in friendly Pakistan, the USSR, in India. 

In 1984, after Anisimov finally returned to the USSR. There he was interrogated by the KGB, after which he went to his native village. He decided to get the status of a combat veteran, which entitles him to a number of benefits, only in the early 1990s.

Bureaucratic obstacles arose because of the unusual fate of the former Soviet soldier. The enigma of German Anisimov baffled the military commission of the Central Military District, which assigns this status. In the end, the veteran soldier, with the support of Afghan old hands, managed to prove his case. He should receive his certificate as soon as possible.

History repeats itself because people will not learn from history: In 1843, the British army chaplain Rev. G. R. Gleig wrote a memoir of the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War (1839 – 1841) of which he was one of very few survivors.

He wrote: ‘It was a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.’ Materials for the project “Afghans missing”

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