246. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

28030. Subject: Soviet Military Buildup in Afghanistan. Ref: State 331394.2

1. (S-entire text)

2. Per instructions reftel I called on First Deputy Minister V.F. Mal’tsev on December 27 at 5:30 p.m. to convey U.S. concern over wide-scale introduction of Soviet military units into Afghanistan and to ask for immediate clarification of Soviet Government’s actions and intentions. Soviets had obviously anticipated our demarche and Mal’tsev was prepared with a written statement which he said he was instructed to convey to the USG and to President Carter personally. The statement acknowledged that “limited” Soviet forces have gone into Afghanistan at Afghan Government request to repel “external” aggression in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.3 The statement said Soviet forces would be withdrawn when the reasons for their being sent no longer exist. The text of the statement follows.

3. Begin text:

I am authorized to transmit confidentially for the Government of the United States of America and personally for the President the following:

As is well-known everywhere in the world, including to the Government of the United States of America, for a long time there has been interference from abroad in internal Afghan affairs, including direct use of armed force. It is completely obvious that the aim of this interference is the overthrow of the democratic structure established as a result of the victory of the April revolution in 1978. The Afghan people and its armed forces actively rebuffed these aggressive acts and repelled encroachments against the democratic achievements, sovereignty and national dignity of the new Afghanistan. However, the acts of external ag[Page 712]gression continue on an increasingly wider scale; even now, armed units and weapons are being sent in from abroad.

In these circumstances the leadership of the state of Afghanistan turned to the Soviet Union for help and assistance in the struggle against external aggression. The Soviet Union, proceeding from the common interests of Afghanistan and our country in security matters—as set forth also in the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness and Cooperation of 1978—and in the interest of preserving peace in this region, responded positively to this request by the leadership of Afghanistan and adopted a decision to send to Afghanistan limited military contingents to carry out the tasks requested by the leadership of Afghanistan. In doing this the Soviet Union also proceeds on the basis of the appropriate provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, in particular Article 51, which provides for the right of states to individual and collective self-defense in repelling aggression and restoring the peace.

The Soviet Government, in informing the Government of the USA about this, considers it necessary also to state that when the reasons evoking this action of the Soviet Union cease to exist, it intends to withdraw its military contingents from the territory of Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union again emphasizes that, as before, its only desire is to see Afghanistan an independent sovereign state carrying out a policy of good-neighborliness and peace, firmly respecting and fulfilling its international obligations, including those under the Charter of the United Nations. End text.

4. After hearing Mal’tsev out I proceeded to make the points per reftel and left a non-paper.4 In making the oral point concerning the safety of American personnel in Afghanistan, I referred to the loss of Ambassador Spike Dubs in Kabul.5

5. Mal’tsev initially refused to address any of the questions I raised and merely stated that the Soviet statement covered all the questions we had asked. He stressed the confidential nature of the information conveyed to the USG and personally to the President. After I pressed him further, Mal’tsev made the following comments. First, my reference to the introduction of “large numbers” of Soviet forces was in contrast to the Soviet statement which refers to “limited” military contingents. Second, the allegation that these actions constitute direct intervention in internal affairs and a threat to the peace does not correspond to the actual situation because Soviet actions are in response to the legal request of the Afghan Government in order to preserve peace [Page 713] in that area. Mal’tsev concluded with the hope that, when I had studied the text carefully, I would find all the answers to the questions we had raised. He then said abruptly this was all he could say on the matter and that he was under instructions only to convey the basic statement he had handed me.

6. I told Mal’tsev I would convey the statement to my government and to the President, but made clear that the Soviet statement did not answer the questions we had raised, specifically regarding the size and suddenness of Soviet troop movements and military equipment to Afghanistan. Also, it did not explain the substantive change in Soviet intentions toward Afghanistan which all these military actions implied. I also made it clear that if I could have had an opportunity to discuss with him the serious issues these actions raise, I would have asked who are these outsiders interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs? Mal’tsev repeated that he believed the Soviet statement was responsive and fully covered our questions. I repeated that I considered the Soviet response inadequate.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Afghanistan, Box 1, 12/27/79. Secret; Sensitive; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room. Carter described his reaction to the invasion in his memoirs: “Now, during the holidays, the Soviets embarked on a massive airlift into Afghanistan. I returned from Camp David to the White House immediately because of this ominous event.” (Keeping Faith, p. 471)
  2. Telegram 331394 to Moscow, December 26, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840153–1433.
  3. Article 51 addresses a country’s right to self defense. See the text of the U.N. Charter in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1979, pp. 1337–1351.
  4. Not found.
  5. See Document 171.