Former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko, a Kremlin insider for more than four decades, has disclosed that former Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev had a serious drinking problem and ordered the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan after an emotional reaction to the assassination of a Communist leader in Kabul.
Gromyko, 80, who advised every Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, made the disclosures in an interview published Sunday in the London Observer. In the interview, the ex-president--who earlier this year broke a lifetime of public silence--offered tantalizing insights into decisions by Stalin, Nikita S. Khrushchev, Brezhnev and the current Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
But Gromyko’s harshest criticism was reserved for Brezhnev, who succeeded Khrushchev in 1964 and led the Soviet Union into what is now considered by the Kremlin to have been a period of economic and moral decay.
Gromyko, who retired last year, said that one of his major disagreements with Brezhnev stemmed from the Kremlin view of alcoholism, which was afflicting workers throughout the nation.
“It was perfectly obvious that the last person willing to look at this problem was the general secretary himself,” Gromyko said. Asked if Brezhnev had a drinking problem, Gromyko paused and then said: “The answer is: Yes, yes, yes.”
“He was an emotional man, easily moved to tears. When the news came through (in 1979) that (Nur Mohammed) Taraki, the general secretary of the Afghan Communist Party, had been murdered brutally in his study, it was too much for Brezhnev to bear. He was simply beside himself.
“Taraki’s murder has to be taken into account when considering the steps taken by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan,” Gromyko said.
Gromyko’s comments will interest Western intelligence officials, who have puzzled for years over the reason for the Soviets’ first military move outside their post-World War II borders.