Afghanistan and the Soviet Withdrawal 1989 20 Years Later

Alexander Lyakhovsky

Washington D.C., July 31st 2011 – Twenty years ago today, the commander of the Soviet Limited Contingent in Afghanistan Boris Gromov crossed the Termez Bridge out of Afghanistan, thus marking the end of the Soviet war which lasted almost ten years and cost tens of thousands of Soviet and Afghan lives.

As a tribute and memorial to the late Russian historian, General Alexander Antonovich Lyakhovsky, the National Security Archive today posted on the Web ( a series of previously secret Soviet documents including Politburo and diary notes published here in English for the first time.  The documents suggest that the Soviet decision to withdraw occurred as early as 1985, but the process of implementing that decision was excruciatingly slow, in part because the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was never able to achieve the necessary domestic support and legitimacy – a key problem even today for the current U.S. and NATO-supported government in Kabul.

The Soviet documents show that ending the war in Afghanistan, which Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev called “the bleeding wound,” was among his highest priorities from the moment he assumed power in 1985 – a point he made clear to then-Afghan Communist leader Babrak Karmal in their first conversation on March 14, 1985.  Already in 1985, according to the documents, the Soviet Politburo was discussing ways of disengaging from Afghanistan, and actually reached the decision in principle on October 17, 1985.

But the road from Gorbachev’s decision to the actual withdrawal was long and painful.  The documents show the Soviet leaders did not come up with an actual timetable until the fall of 1987.  Gorbachev made the public announcement on February 8, 1988, and the first troops started coming out in May 1988, with complete withdrawal on February 15, 1989.  Gorbachev himself, in his recent book (Mikhail Gorbachev, Ponyat’ perestroiku … Pochemu eto vazhno seichas. (Moscow: Alpina Books 2006)), cites at least two factors to explain why it took the reformers so long to withdraw the troops.  According to Gorbachev, the Cold War frame held back the Soviet leaders from making more timely and rational moves, because of fear of the international perception that any such withdrawal would be a humiliating retreat.  In addition to saving face, the Soviet leaders kept trying against all odds to ensure the existence of a stable and friendly Afghanistan with some semblance of a national reconciliation process in place before they left.

The documents detail the Soviet leadership’s preoccupation that, before withdrawal of troops could be carried out, the Afghan internal situation had to be stabilized and a new government should be able to rely on its domestic power base and a trained and equipped army able to deal with the mujahadeen opposition.  The Soviets sought to secure the Afghan borders through some kind of compromise with the two other most important outside players—Pakistan, through which weapons and aid reached the opposition, and the United States, provider of the bulk of that aid.  In the process of Geneva negotiations on Afghanistan, which were initiated by the United Nations in 1982, the United States, in the view of the Soviet reformers, was dragging its feet, unwilling to stop arms supplies to the rebels and hoping and planning for the fall of the pro-Soviet Najibullah regime after the Soviet withdrawal.

Internally, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan did everything possible to prevent or slow down the Soviet withdrawal, putting pressure on the Soviet military and government representatives to expand military operations against the rebels.

Persistent pleading on the part of Najibullah government as late as January 1989 created an uncharacteristic split in the Soviet leadership, with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze suggesting that the withdrawal should be slowed down or some forces should remain to help protect the regime, while the military leadership argued strongly in favor of a complete and decisive withdrawal.

According to the American record, Shevardnadze had already informed Secretary of State George Shultz as early as September 1987 of the specific timetable for withdrawal.  But many senior officials did not believe the Soviet assurances; in fact, deputy CIA director Robert Gates famously bet a State Department diplomat on New Year’s Eve 1987 that Gorbachev would make no withdrawal announcement until after the end of the Reagan administration.  Gates believed the Chinese saying about the Soviet appetite for territory: “What the bear has eaten, he never spits out” – and only in his memoirs did he admit he was making “an intelligence forecast based on fortune cookie wisdom.”  (Robert Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York:  Simon&Shuster, 1996, pp. 430-431).  Of course, Gates’ hardline views on Gorbachev would take over U.S. policy as the George H.W. Bush administration came into office in January 1989.

By this time, however, the Soviet leaders well realized that the goal of building socialism in Afghanistan was illusory; and at the same time the goal of securing the southern borders of the Soviet Union seemed to be still within reach with the policy of national reconciliation of the Najibullah government.  So the troops came out completely by February 15, 1989.  Soon after the Soviet withdrawal, however, both superpowers seemed to lose interest in what had been so recently the hottest spot of the Cold War.

Najibullah would outlast Gorbachev’s tenure in the Kremlin, but not by much:  Within three years Najibullah would be removed from power and brutally murdered, and Afghanistan would plunge into the darkness of civil war and the coming to power of the Taliban.  Twenty years later, the other superpower and its Cold War alliance are fighting a war in Afghanistan against forces of darkness that were born among the fundamentalist parts of mujahadeen resistance to the Soviet occupation.  In such a context, the language and the dilemmas in these 20-year-old documents still provide some resonance today.

This posting is also a tribute to and a commemoration of one of our long-standing partners in the pursuit of opening secrets and writing the new truly international history of the Cold War.   General Alexander Lyakhovsky passed away from a heart attack while standing on a Moscow Metro platform on February 3, 2009, less than two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the end of the war in which he served as an officer, and which he studied for many years as a scholar.  He is survived by his wife Tatyana and their children Vladimir and Galina.

The National Security Archive mourns the passing of our dear friend and partner, Alexander Antonovich.  It is fitting and proper that here we express our deepest appreciation for his remarkable knowledge, his scholarly and personal integrity, and his generosity both in expertise and the documents that he always shared with us, while he educated us and the world.  His memory lives on in all of us who ever read his work, heard him speak, or best of all, listened to him sing the sad songs of the Afghan war.

— Svetlana Savranskaya, director of Russia programs, Thomas Blanton, executive director, National Security Archive, and Malcolm Byrne, Deputy Director, National Security Archive.


Document 1. Memorandum of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Conversation with Babrak Karmal, March 14, 1985

In his first conversation with the leader of Afghanistan, who was installed by the Soviet troops in December of 1979, Gorbachev underscored two main points: first that “the Soviet troops cannot stay in Afghanistan forever,” and second, that the Afghan revolution was presently in its “national-democratic” stage, whereas its socialist stage was only “a course of the future.” He also encouraged the Afghan leader to expand the base of the regime to unite all the “progressive forces.” In no uncertain terms, Karmal was told that the Soviet troops would be leaving soon and that his government would have to rely on its own forces.

Document 2.  Anatoly Chernyaev Diary, April 4, 1985

Chernyaev reflects on the “torrent of letters” about Afghanistan received recently by the Central Committee and the Pravda newspaper.  They reflect the growing dissatisfaction of the population with the drawn-out war and the consensus that the troops should be withdrawn.

Document 3 Anatoly Chernyaev Diary, October 17, 1985.

At the Politburo session of October 17, 1985, General Secretary Gorbachev proposed to make a final decision on Afghanistan and quoted from citizens’ letters regarding the dissatisfaction in the country with the Soviet actions in Afghanistan.  He also described his meeting with Babrak Karmal during which Gorbachev told the Afghan leader: “we will help you, but with arms only, not troops.”Chernyaev noted Gorbachev’s negative reaction to the assessment of the situation given by Defense Minister Marshal Sergey Sokolov.

Document 4.  Politburo Session, June 26, 1986.

The Politburo discusses the first results of Najibullah’s policy of national reconciliation.  Gorbachev emphasizes that the decision to withdraw the troops is firm, but that the United States seems to be a problem as far as the national reconciliation is concerned.  He proposes early withdrawals of portions of troops to give the process a boost, and proposes to “pull the USA and Pakistan by their tail” to encourage them to participate in it more actively.

Document 5 Politburo Session, November 13, 1986.

The first detailed Politburo discussion of the process and difficulties of the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, which included the testimony of Marshal Sergei Akhromeev.

Document 6 Politburo Session, January 21, 1987

The Politburo discusses the results of Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Head of the Central Committee International Department Anatoly Dobrynin’s trip to Afghanistan.  Shevardnadze’s report is very blunt and pessimistic about the war and the internal situation.  The main concern of the Politburo is how to end the war but save face and ensure a friendly and neutral Afghanistan.

Document 7 Politburo Session, February 23, 1987

Gorbachev talks about the need to withdraw while engaging the United States and Pakistan in negotiations on the final settlement.  He is willing to meet with the Pakistani leader Zia ul Khaq, and maybe even offer him some payoff.  The Soviet leader also shows concern about the Soviet reputation among non-aligned countries and national liberation movements.

Document 8 Politburo Session, February 26, 1987

In his remarks to the Politburo, General Secretary returns to the issue of the need to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan several times.  He emphasizes the need to withdraw the troops, and at the same time struggles with the explanation for the withdrawal, noting that “we not going to open up the discussion about who is to blame now.”  Gromyko admits that it was a mistake to introduce the troops, but notes that it was done after 11 requests from the Afghan government.

Document 9  Colonel Tsagolov Letter to USSR Minister of Defense Dmitry Yazov on the Situation in Afghanistan, August 13, 1987

Criticism of the Soviet policy of national reconciliation in Afghanistan and analysis of general failures of the Soviet military mission there are presented in Colonel Tsagolov’s letter to USSR Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov of August 13, 1987.  This letter represents the first open criticism of the Afghan war from within the military establishment.  Colonel Tsagolov paid for his attempt to make his criticism public in his interview with Soviet influential progressive magazine “Ogonek” by his career—he was expelled from the Army in 1988.

Document 10  CC CPSU Letter on Afghanistan, May 10, 1988

On May 10, 1988, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR issued a “closed” (internal use) letter to all Communist Party members of the Soviet Union on the issue of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.  The letter presents the Central Committee analysis of events in Afghanistan and Soviet actions in that country, the problems and the difficulties the Soviet troops had to face in carrying out their mission.  In particular, the letter stated that important historic and ethnic factors were overlooked when the decisions on Afghanistan were made in the Soviet Union. The letter analyzes Soviet interests in Afghanistan and the reasons for the withdrawal of troops.

Document 11 Politburo Session January 24, 1989

This Politburo session deals with the issue of the completion of the withdrawal and the post-war Soviet role in Afghanistan, as well as possible future development of the situation there.  The discussion shows the split among the Soviet leadership with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze arguing for leaving some personnel behind to help protect the Najibullah regime or delaying the full withdrawal.

Document 12 Excerpt from Alexander Lyakhovsky and Vyacheslav Nekrasov, Grazhdanin, Politik, Voin: Pamyati Shakha Masuda (Citizen, Politician, Fighter: In Memory of Shah Masoud), (Moscow, 2007), pp. 202-205

Document 13  Excerpt from Statement of the Soviet Military Command in Afghanistan on the Withdrawal of Soviet Troops, February 14, 1989

On April 7, 1988, USSR Defense Minister signed an order on withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.  In February 1989, the Defense Ministry prepared a statement of the Soviet Military Command in Afghanistan on the issue of withdrawal of troops, which was delivered to the Head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan on February 14, 1989—the day when the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan.  The statement gave an overview of Soviet-Afghan relations before 1979, Soviet interpretation of the reasons for providing internationalist assistance to Afghanistan, and sending troops there after the repeated requests of the Afghan government.  It criticized the U.S. role in arming the opposition in disregard of the Geneva agreements, and thus destabilizing the situation in the country.  In an important acknowledgement that the Vietnam metaphor was used to analyze Soviet actions in Afghanistan, they military explicitly referred to “unfair and absurd” comparisons between the American actions in Vietnam and the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

Document 14. Official Chronology of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan with quotes from documents from the Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Moscow.

Books By Alexander Lyakhovsky
Grazhdanin,Politik,Voin, Plamya Afgana and Zacharovannye svobodoj


CONFIDENTIAL: Lords of the Narco-Coast: Part II – Community Reaction

DE RUEHMU #0013/01 0071743
R 071743Z JAN 10
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANAGUA 000013 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/07
SUBJECT: Lords of the Narco-Coast: Part II - Community Reaction
Divided, FSLN Blames U.S. for Crisis 


CLASSIFIED BY: Robert J. Callahan, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(A), (B),


1. (C): On December 8, after a plane laden with cocaine and cash
crash-landed in the remote, small village of Walpa Siksa in the
North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), a deadly confrontation
took place between Nicaraguan anti-drug units and drug smugglers
allied with some number of local residents.  This message is the
second in a series that reports on the Walpa Siksa incident and its
immediate aftermath, and explores what these events have revealed
about the actual state of organized trafficking operations in
Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast. 

2.  (C) In the aftermath of the incident, public reactions have
been divided.  Some regional politicians and leaders of the
indigenous Yatama political party have called the incident and
subsequent government operations in the region a new "Red Christmas
Massacre" - a reference to the Sandinistas' deadly attacks on
indigenous Miskitos in the 1980s, assertions the military contests
are false.  Religious leaders have denounced these same political
leaders for turning a blind eye to the increased drug activity.
Former Vice President (and ex-Sandinista), Sergio Ramirez, has
decried the presence of trafficking organizations as a national
security threat, while a senior current FSLN official accused the
United States, specifically the CIA, of "promoting" the drug trade
to destabilize the country.  Underneath all lies a subtext of the
perennial rivalry and racial conflict between Nicaragua's Pacific
(Hispanic) and Atlantic (Afro-Caribbean and Amerindian) cultures.
Yet, also through the dissonance, the Walpa Siksa incident and its
aftermath seem to indicate stronger linkages between drug smugglers
and local communities in Nicaragua's Atlantic region than
previously believed.  END SUMMARY 


3. (C) The Walpa Siksa village, where the December 8 incident
occurred, is in a region historically controlled by Yatama; the
regional, indigenous Miskito political party.  Much of Yatama's
leadership itself has been co-opted by the ruling Sandinista Party
(REF D) over the last few years.  Even so, regional politicians and
several Yatama leaders have taken to the airwaves, primarily on
their new Yatama radio station (reportedly funded by the
government), to condemn the Nicaraguan military for its continuing
operations in the vicinity of Walpa Siksa and Prinzapolka.  These
leaders, including Brooklyn Rivera, a Yatama National Assembly
Deputy; Reynoldo Francis, Governor of the North Atlantic Autonomous
Region (RAAN); Roberto Wilson, the RAAN Vice Governor; and
Elizabeth Enriquez Francis, former mayor of RAAN capital Bilwi (and
ex-wife of Governor Francis), have used Miskito-language radio
broadcasts from the new station to claim that the Nicaraguan
anti-drug unit had violated human rights in pursuing its
investigation and by detaining suspects from Walpa Siksa.  These
leaders vehemently denied that these coastal communities support,
house and abet drug smugglers, as had been charged by some critics.
Rivera told national media that "the soldiers are all from the
Pacific coast.  There has been racism, robberies and looting of
indigenous people's homes."  Other Miskito leaders claim that the
soldiers have killed livestock and stolen food donated to the
community by the World Food Program. 

4. (C) Rivera, Francis, Wilson, and Enriquez have all called for
and even led several protests against police and navy forces
stationed in Bilwi, creating a new crisis in the region.  They have
denounced the "human rights violations" by the anti-drug unit
against the "innocent" indigenous people and claim that the
military "occupation" of Walpa Siksa is rife with abuses.  This
racially-charged agitation led some in the Miskito community to set
up illegal road blocks at the town of Sinsin, preventing traffic on
the only road between Bilwi and Managua.  There were also attempts
to take over the Bilwi International Airport and the capital's main
wharf.  These Yatama leaders and radicalized supporters have
demanded that the Navy cease all operations on the Atlantic Coast,
withdraw from the region, and immediately release the roughly two
dozen suspects detained in Walpa Siksa and Prinzapolka.  (see
SEPTEL).  Rivera also told reporters that the Walpa Siksa community
elders had decided to abandon their community if the military did
not depart or carried out its plan to establish a permanent
presence in the area. 


5. (U) The Moravian Church is the largest denomination on the
Atlantic Coast and a large majority of indigenous Miskitos belong
to it, making the church the moral authority in the region; even
more so than the Catholic Church.  On Friday, December 13, Moravian
Church Superintendant Cora Antonio issued a grave statement against
the local Walpa Siksa community leaders, police officials and
military officials in the Atlantic, whom she claimed knew about the
narco-trafficking base in Walpa Siksa, but took no action until the
recent plane crash.  Antonio, who will finish her two-year term in
January 2010, complained that drug smugglers had established their
networks unchallenged by the GON and exploited the extreme poverty
on the Coast.  She also claimed that elected officials, including
Francis, Wilson, and Lidia Coleman, the mayor of nearby
Prinzapolka, as well as police and military authorities, "knew from
the beginning of the installation of this narco-traffickers' base,
but never did anything about it."   She also stated that in certain
Caribbean communities the narco-traffickers exercised the highest
authority, above that of the community judge, the village elders,
even the pastor or "sindico," and that they frequently commanded
the "last word" on community decisions.  Antonio also said the
Moravian Church had recently removed a reverend from the Walpa
Siksa village out of fear that he would be physically attacked for
preaching against drugs from the pulpit. 


6. (U) Other non-FSLN-aligned indigenous leaders took aim at the
President Ortega and at the military's recent actions.  The Wihta
Tara of the Miskito Nation, aka the Rev. Hector Williams, who
denounced the Managua government and called for Miskito
independence, told the media that Columbian drug traffickers had
already left, so the military should leave as well.  NOTE: The
Wihta Tara (Miskito for "great judge"), was elected by the Council
of Elders of the Miskito Nation and leads Miskito separatist
movement that mounted protests which were violently suppressed this
past October (REF E)  END NOTE.   Williams stated that "the army is
after the money that they think is hidden in the community."
Building on the racial inequality theme, another separatist leader,
Steady Alvarado, publicly questioned why the military felt it could
take actions in the indigenous communities that it would never
attempt on the Pacific Coast.  The Miskito Council of Elders itself
issued a statement on December 12 blaming President Ortega directly
for the "tortures, persecutions and death of our community members
in Walpa Siksa."  It also accused Ortega of being "incapable of
neutralizing" drug trafficking activity on the Atlantic Coast, and
for again "bearing a grudge" against the Coastal peoples, "like he
did during the Navidad Roja (Red Christmas Massacre)."  NOTE: The
Red Christmas Massacre occurred in 1981, when Sandinista military
operations in the Atlantic Coast killed dozens and forcibly
relocated hundreds of Miskitos thought to be collaborating with the
Contras. END NOTE. 


7. (U) General Omar Halleslevens, Commander of the Nicaraguan
military, told reporters that the Army would not leave Walpa Siksa,
nor would it stop searching neighboring communities for drug
traffickers.  He insisted that the Army would remain and would take
appropriate measures to protect the area from again becoming a
haven for drug trafficking.  Halleslevens denied accusations that
the military had violated human rights, saying "our line has been
from the very beginning to respect life, human rights, private
property and the law ... as we are completing our duty to support
the police in applying the law."  He further declared that the
military would "not give a rock, nor even an inch of the national
territory, to narco-traffickers" and called on government
institutions and the population to support law enforcement in its
fight.  NOTE: Thus far, Post has no/no credible evidence of human
rights violations by law enforcement related to this operation.  We
continue to monitor the situation closely and will report relevant
developments if they occur.  END NOTE. 


8. (U) Adding to the chorus of concern about the absentee national
government was author and former Nicaraguan/FSLN vice president,
Sergio Ramirez, who said in an op-ed that the strong
narco-traffickers presence on the Caribbean Coast threatened
Nicaragua's sovereignty and territorial integrity.  He believed
that the "narco-traffickers will promote the separation of the
Caribbean Coast (REF E) and already have the social base to do it"
because of the significant resources drug smugglers enjoy and the
rampant political corruption in the region.  Ramirez also said the
confrontation between the anti-drug units and the Walpa Siksa
community demonstrated that criminal organizations had achieved
enormous influence on the Atlantic Coast while the "government does
not do anything to stop the problem." 


9. (U) In contrast, during December 16 interviews, Steadman Fagoth,
a Miskito indigenous leader, former Contra commander, and now
ardent Ortega supporter, told FSLN-controlled media that United
States had created the Walpa Siksa crisis.  Fagoth, who is also
president of the Government's Fishing Authority (INPESCA), spoke to
Multinoticias Channel 4, owned and operated by the Ortega-Murillo
family, and to "El 19," the official on-line newspaper of the
Sandinista Government.  He claimed that the United States, through
the CIA, was trying to provoke an uprising in the Atlantic Coast
against the government by supporting narco-criminals.  He added
that Alberto Luis Cano, the fugitive Colombian drug leader and
passenger of the crashed drug airplane (see SEPTEL-Part I) had been
hired by the CIA to promote an uprising among the native
population, by playing on the racial animosity between Nicaragua's
Pacific and Atlantic populations.  Perhaps Fagoth's most troubling
comment was that because of the current unrest, the government
might delay regional elections scheduled for March 2010.  


10. (C) In the cacophony following the Walpa Siksa incident,
statements of FSLN official Steadman Fagoth are perhaps the most
politically ominous.  Fagoth is a regular proxy for Ortega's
Atlantic policy.  His remarks frequently represent test balloons
for how Ortega perceives the situation and how the President seeks
to position himself against any fallout.  Fagoth's anti-U.S.
accusations are outrageous, but not unexpected -- that the United
States and CIA employed a drug trafficker to created this crisis,
destabilize the region and overthrow the government.  He made
similar accusations about the United States and CIA when the Wihta
Tara announced the separatist movement several months ago.  In
2008, the GON delayed RAAN municipal elections (REF E) on dubious
grounds.  Thus Fagoth's comment about delaying the March 2010
regional elections may indicate Ortega's true intent: freeze
everyone in place. 

11. (C) The Walpa Siksa incident and its aftermath aggravated
underlying tensions and divisions that persist in the Atlantic, and
may have exposed new evidence about the nature and extend of
narco-trafficking activity.  Serious concerns about threats to
national security and sovereignty have been raised by critics of
the government.  Some community leaders, such as Moravian
Superintendent Cora Antonio, have spoken out about what they see as
rampant drug corruption and political collusion by RAAN political
leaders.  We find it odd that these same political leaders, such as
Rivera, Francis, Wilson and Enriquez agitated against military
counter-drug operations, and virtually denied the existence of any
narco-trafficking activity.  At a minimum, their efforts to fan
latent racial resentments seem self-serving re-election efforts in
the run-up to regional elections.  For its part, the military
denies any human rights abuses in this, its largest anti-drug land
operation in the Caribbean in years.  In a subsequent message we
will provide more detail about the figures caught up in the Walpa
Siksa incident and outline some of the networks and relationships
that we believe traffickers may have been able to establish.

CONFIDENTIAL: Lords of the Narco-Coast: Part I – Deadly Confrontation

DE RUEHMU #1149/01 3552241
R 212241Z DEC 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 001149 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/21
SUBJECT: Lords of the Narco-Coast: Part I - Deadly Confrontation at
Walpa Siksa 


CLASSIFIED BY: Robert J. Callahan, Ambassador, State, Embassy
Managua; REASON: 1.4(A), (B), (D) 

1. (C) SUMMARY: On December 8, after a plane laden with cocaine and
cash crash landed in the remote, small village of Walpa Siksa in
the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), a deadly confrontation
took place between Nicaraguan anti-drug units and drug smugglers
allied with a some number of local residents.  Stories of how the
clash came to pass on December 8 are divergent, but the Walpa Siksa
incident,  the ensuing actions of regional leaders and local
residents, as well as the enhanced posture of security forces seems
to indicate there are stronger linkages between drug smugglers and
local communities than previously believed.  This message is the
first in a series that reports on the Walpa Siksa incident and its
immediate aftermath, and explores what these events have revealed
about the actual state of organized trafficking operations in
Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast.  END SUMMARY 


2. (C) On Tuesday, December 8, a Nicaraguan anti-drug unit clashed
with suspected drug traffickers, leaving two sailors dead and five
other government security forces wounded.  The following account of
events is based on Government of Nicaragua (GON) official briefings
and conversations between senior GON law enforcement/military
officials and Embassy personnel.  On Tuesday, December 8, a
Nicaraguan anti-drug unit combined force of navy and national
police traveled to the remote, small village of Walpa Siksa in the
North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) to investigate reports of a
plane crash linked to drug smugglers.  The joint patrol arrived in
the evening and was ambushed by civilians from the remote village,
who were allegedly defending the drug traffickers.  In the melee,
two sailors were killed, and three other military personnel and one
police officer were severely wounded.  One villager from Walpa
Siksa was also killed.  On Wednesday, December 9, a joint
Nicaraguan navy-army patrol returned to Walpa Siksa to detain those
suspected of involvement in the ambush, only to find the community
abandoned of all males.  On Thursday, December 10, anti-drug forces
from the Navy confronted an additional group of drug smugglers near
the community of Prinzapolka, in which one suspect was killed and
another wounded.  Two more were detained, and the fifth suspect
escaped.  Subsequent missions by the anti-drug unit over several
days resulted in 20 suspects arrested (18 in connection with the
first clash), and confiscation of a powerboat, several guns,
ammunition, small quantities of drugs and $177,960 in cash.
Nicaraguan security forces have seized and are now operating out of
several homes in the Walpa Siksa community that are believed to
have housed drug smugglers.  The military has announced plans to
establish a permanent presence in the area to discourage drug
traffickers from using it as a base of operations any longer. 

3. (U) Capt. Roger Gonzalez, newly-installed chief of the
Nicaraguan naval forces, told the press that "we understand there
is a Colombian criminal, suspected drug trafficker, [Alberto Ruiz
Cano] who has $500,000 and has armed certain area individuals, and
we are searching for him."  Police investigators revealed that Ruiz
Cano, whose real name is Amauri Pau, was illegally issued a
Nicaraguan national identity card (cedula) and owns several
properties and businesses in Managua believed to be involved in
money laundering (see SEPTEL).  Ruiz Cano is also believed to have
been on the crashed plane and is suspected of leading the December
8 attack against the anti-drug unit.  Officials detained two
Colombians -- Ruiz Cano's father [Fernando Melendez Paudd known as
"el Patron"] and his cousin [Catalina del Carmen Ruiz] -- but
neither has been willing to talk to police about Ruiz Cano or his
whereabouts.  Ruiz Cano's associates have hired attorney Julian
Holmes Arguello to defend them.  The presence of Holmes Arguello, a
well-known and expensive attorney, has reinforced official
suspicions about Holmes own possible drug connections. 


4. (U) The national daily newspaper El Nuevo Diario "END"
(left-of-center) has provided continuous coverage of the Walpa
Siksa incident, since it came to light on the evening of December
8th.  According to the paper's accounts, events leading up to the
deadly December 8 firefight differ somewhat from the official
account.  The paper's sources, who requested anonymity for fear of
possible reprisals from traffickers, other residents and the
government, stated that the plane crash-landed in the Walpa Siksa
cemetery on Sunday, December 6 at 11 a.m.  The impact killed the
pilot and co-pilot instantly, and broke the plane into several
pieces scattering packets of cocaine and bundles of dollars in the
debris.  Walpa Siksa residents quickly discovered the dead pilots
and one crash survivor, to whom they gave medical attention.  They
were also surprised at the large quantity of cocaine the plane was
carrying.  According to the paper's sources, some community elders
wanted to immediately contact the police and navy about the plane
crash and drugs, but others argued that it would be better to
divide the cash and drugs within the community and then burn the
plane to hide the evidence.  According to the media reports, the
latter group prevailed and armed themselves with weapons (pistols,
AK-47 rifles) that had been stored since the 1980's.  According to
the eye-witness accounts, on December 7 at 2 p.m. two boats with
approximately 40 Colombian narco-traffickers, who were "armed to
the teeth," arrived in Walpa Siksa to rescue the pilots and the
third passenger (known as "el Jefe" or "the boss," believed to be
Alberto Ruiz Cano), and to recover the plane's lost "merchandise."
The Colombians spent the night of December 7 and all day December 8
trying to convince the community to return the missing drugs and
cash.  According to END reports, when the narco-traffickers learned
that a government anti-drug unit was coming from Bilwi to
investigate the plane crash, they armed the community in order to
repel the Navy.  As soon as the two Navy boats arrived, the
narco-traffickers opened fire on the sailors, who also shot back,
killing four community members [NOTE: only one death in the
community has been confirmed. END NOTE].  The navy boats returned
to Bilwi at 7 p.m. with their dead and wounded.  On December 9, the
wounded civilians from Walpa Siksa were taken to a nearby village
and, by the afternoon, the Walpa Siksa village was evacuated
because villagers feared reprisals by the Government. 

5. (C) Our Embassy contacts on the ground in the RAAN have relayed
an account similar to that reported in the newspaper, but that
differs on some important details.  According to our sources, on
Friday, December 4, an airplane carrying hundreds of pounds of
cocaine and sacks of cash ran out of fuel on its way to a
clandestine runway in the RAAN and was forced to make an emergency
landing on the beach near Walpa Siksa.  The plane's pilot and two
passengers, allegedly Colombians, suffered minor injuries and were
sheltered by the local community.  Members of the community quickly
emptied the airplane of its cargo, estimated to be approximately a
half-ton of cocaine separated into individual one kilo packets.
Our contacts told us that word of the plane crash quickly spread
throughout the coastal communities and on Saturday morning,
December 5, several local merchants left Bilwi with their boats
full of commercial goods and food to sell to the community with its
sudden new windfall.  By Saturday evening narco-trafficker "rescue
boats" carrying approximately 40 Colombians and Hondurans
(reportedly from Honduras and San Andres) arrived in the community
to save the pilot/passengers and recover the drugs and cash.  Over
the ensuing three days, village elders urged by the narco "recovery
team" tried to persuade the community to sell the cocaine packets
back at a price of $3,000 a kilo.  According to our contacts, the
major sticking point was that the $3,000 price was only half the
$6,000 per kilo price that locals knew they could get by taking
their windfall slightly up the coast to Honduras.  When one group
of Walpa Siksa residents ultimately refused to sell back their
stash to the narco-traffickers, they were attacked and robbed of
their "windfall."  This group subsequently traveled to Bilwi on the
morning of Tuesday, December 8, and filed a formal complaint with
the police there, which confirmed rumors of a drug-plane crash.
Our contacts told us that it was this formal complaint that lead to
the government dispatching the counter-drug unit to investigate at
Walpa Siksa.  The anti-drug unit arrived in two boats to Walpa
Siksa at approximately 6 p.m.  Our contacts told us that there had
been no ambush when they arrived, but rather an "amicable" meeting
between law enforcement and village elders.  However, things turned
sour after one of the Colombians from the "rescue team," who was
drunk and under the impression they were under attack, shot his
automatic weapon into the group of uniformed sailors, killing one
and seriously wounding several other counter-drug unit members.
Our contacts told us that the "ambush" story was fabricated later
by authorities to account for their dead and wounded. 


6. (C) Walpa Siksa has obliged us to revise our views about the
nature and extent of trafficking activity on the Atlantic.
Previously, our assessment had been that the majority of the local
indigenous Miskito villages were too xenophobic to actively support
outsiders (even Nicaraguans from the Pacific side of Hispanic
descent) in transporting drugs (or, frankly, any other activity)
for extended periods.  We had also believed that local interaction
with traffickers had been intermittent, and normally took place
upon the instruction or advice of a small number of corrupt
political and indigenous leaders in the region.  We maintain our
basic assessment is still valid; however, all three versions of the
Walpa Siksa incident reveal evidence that there is likely a much
higher degree of cooperation and support than we previously
believed between foreign drug trafficking organization and, at
least, the more remote local communities of Nicaragua's Atlantic
Coast.  In some cases there may be persistent and pervasive
relationships within an entire community.  We fear that it now
appears that organized criminal elements may have made major
inroads within some remote coastal communities, convincing them to
join forces by offering perhaps the only secure and steady
employment opportunity on the Coast - maintaining drug trafficking
supply routes.  Nicaragua's Atlantic is a key mid-point for an
increasingly busy transit corridor of South American drug shipments
bound for the United States.  It is also the most underdeveloped
and economically backward region of the country and has been
generally ignored by the current and previous central governments
in Managua.  This combination of political neglect, limited
economic opportunity and daily shipments of drugs creates
conditions for a possible "perfect storm" where Nicaragua's
Atlantic Coast could degenerate into an ungoverned "Narco-Coast,"
with serious repercussions for Nicaragua's political stability and
U.S. counternarcotics cooperation.  In subsequent messages we will
address reaction to Walpa Siksa by local, regional and national
figures.  We will also provide more detailed reporting about the
key figures caught up in the Walpa Siksa incident and outline some
of the networks and relationships that we believe traffickers have
been able to establish.


DE RUEHSF #0641/01 2761002
O 021002Z OCT 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SOFIA 000641 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/30/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Nancy McEldowney for reasons 1.4. (b) and (d)

1.  (C)  Summary:  The quandary over energy facing all our
European partners is particularly acute here in Bulgaria.
With few hydrocarbons of its own, Bulgaria relies on Russia
for seventy percent of its total energy needs and over ninety
percent of its gas.  Though previously a net exporter of
electricity, the EU's decision to force closure of blocks 3
and 4 of the communist-era nuclear plant Kozluduy cost the
Bulgarian economy over USD 1.4 billion and put a squeeze on
Serbia, Macedonia and Greece, who had purchased the bulk of
the exports.  The hard reality of today's energy picture is
that Russia is not only the dominant supplier, it is also the
dominant player -- your visit here is the first by a senior
U.S. energy official in a year, whereas Putin has personally
engaged both the President and Prime Minister on energy
issues in multiple sessions over the past ten months.  But
the cartoon strip portraying a passionately eager Bulgaria in
bed with the muscle bound duo of Gazprom and Lukoil is only
partially true -- it is a tryst driven less by passion and
more by a perceived lack of options.  Prime Minister
Stanishev recently described Russian tactics on South Stream
as blackmail and Energy Minister Dimitrov complains openly of
psychological warfare.  At the same time, the Bulgarians are
deeply worried about the prospects for Nabucco and are
convinced that Azeri gas supplies will be held up by Turkey.
Their bid to hold an energy summit in the spring, the
ostensible focus of your visit, is designed to catalyze
greater coordination -- and negotiating leverage -- amongst
transit countries while also getting the United States more
actively engaged.  Background on specific issues likely to
arise in your discussions with President Parvanov, Prime
Minister Stanishev, Foreign Minister Kalfin and Energy
Minister Dimitrov follows below.  End Summary. 


2.  (C)  Your visit to Sofia comes when Bulgaria is striving
to sell itself as a European energy center.  With six active
or potential pipelines transiting the country, the creation
of a new energy mega-holding company, and the construction of
a new nuclear plant, Bulgaria is setting itself up to be an
important regional energy player, despite being overly
dependent on Russian energy sources.  The proposal to host a
major gas summit in April 2009 -- which Putin has already
promised to attend -- is the latest attempt to put Bulgaria
on the energy map.  Your visit will guide the Bulgarians as
they formulate an agenda and goals for this summit.  It will
also focus Bulgarian policy makers on U.S. views on Russian
energy strategy and South Stream, answer growing skepticism
about Nabucco's prospects, and give solid counter-arguments
to those who say there is no real alternative to dependence
on Russian energy. 


3.  (C)  At the January 19 signing of the South Stream
Intergovernmental Agreement, President Parvanov, with Putin
at his side, announced Bulgaria would host an energy summit
intended as a follow-on to the June 2007 Zagreb energy
conference.  Upon Putin's departure, Sofia fell under heavy
criticism both at home and abroad for hastily joining South
Stream, and the energy summit idea lost steam.  Ambassador
for Energy Security Peter Poptchev told us the Bulgarians
resented perceived Russian pressure to hold such a summit.
In July the Bulgarians independently resurrected the summit
idea as a way to show Bulgarian support for Nabucco and
diversification, as well to balance European, U.S. and
Russian interests in the Caspian and Black Sea regions.  With
the potential for six pipelines passing through its
territory, the Bulgarians also have high hopes to become a
regional energy hub.  The summit, they believe, will help put
Sofia on the map not only as an energy center, but as a place
that brokers discussions between the West, Russia and

4.  (C)  The Bulgarians requested your visit to advise on the
summit.  They envision a spring conference (tentatively April
24-25) that would bring together heads of state from Eurasian
and European producer, transit and consumer countries.  PM
Stanishev told Ambassador September 19 that Putin has agreed
to attend.  The summit will be gas-focused and will attempt
to put "real solutions" on sources, routes and quantities on
the table.  Well-aware of the potential for East European
energy conference fatigue in the first half of 2009, the
Bulgarians are proposing that all key participants, including
the EU, the United States and Russia, view the proposed
Hungarian, Bulgarian and Czech conferences as a linked
continuum.  The April Sofia conference would take care of any
unfinished business left from the January Hungary Conference
and the proposed Czech conference would take up where the
Sofia conference leaves off.  To distinguish the Bulgarian
summit, Sofia is considering including an as-yet undeveloped
"industry component." 

5.  (C)  The Bulgarians will seek U.S. views and your advice
on the proposed agenda of the summit and whether it will
advance U.S. goals in the region.  They want recommendations
on how to coordinate the Hungarian, Bulgarian and Czech
conferences and may seek advice on the proposed industry
component of the Sofia summit.  They are interested in, but
may not ask directly about, U.S. views on whether Sofia has a
future as an intermediary between Europe, the United States
and Russia on energy and other issues affecting the Black Sea
region.  They are interested in your analysis of recent Azeri
and Turkish energy moves.  They will also request high level
U.S. attendance at the summit. 


6.  (C)  SOUTH STREAM:  The Bulgarians signed the South
Stream intergovernmental agreement in January and Parliament
ratified the agreement in July.  Negotiations between
Bulgargaz and Gazprom resumed in September to work out a
pre-shareholders agreement.  At our recommendation, and at
the direction of the Government, state-owned Bulgargaz
reluctantly hired outside legal counsel (the U.S. law firm
Paul Hastings) to represent it in South Stream negotiations.
With the creation of a new, state-owned energy mega-holding
in September, Bulgargaz has lost much of its
previously-considerable independence.  The acting head of the
Bulgarian Energy Holding is Deputy Energy Minister Galina
Tosheva, previously lead South Stream negotiator for the
Bulgarian Government.  Tosheva has a healthy suspicion of
Russia's intentions in Bulgaria and has directed Bulgargaz to
rely on its legal counsel for expert advice.  Tosheva told us
that Gazprom negotiators are taking a hard line now that
negotiations have resumed.  They are proposing to re-route
gas currently transiting Bulgaria (for which Bulgartransgas
makes a healthy profit) to South Stream, meaning South Stream
would not represent 31 bcm of new gas for Europe, but
something significantly lower.  The Bulgarians state that
this is contrary to the spirit of the IGA and are preparing
to fight the Russian proposal. 

7.  (C)  NABUCCO:  Despite the strong public support they
have shown Nabucco this year, the Bulgarians are turning into
Nabucco-skeptics.  In March, Sofia signed what it thought was
an agreement for Azerbaijan to supply 1 bcm of gas that
Bulgaria would eventually take as its Nabucco quota.  In
advance of Nabucco, Bulgaria planned to access the gas via a
potential hook-up to the Turkey-Greece-Italy interconnector.
Realizing now that the agreement was not, in fact, a
commitment on Azerbaijan's part, the Bulgarians feel burned.
The government is now in dire need of a pep talk on the
Nabucco.  They state firmly that both South Stream and
Nabucco are critical and that one cannot be allowed to
preclude the other.  At the same time, they are nervous about
both Azerbaijani willingness to supply Nabucco and Turkish
willingness to support the project.  They will be interested
in your view of Nabucco's prospects. 

8.  (C)  TGI HOOK-UP:  The Bulgarians are in negotiations
with Greece about this possible interconnector.  Energy
Holding CEO Tosheva said this is Bulgaria's most immediate
source of diversification and energy security.  The Greeks
apparently are cool to the idea, saying there is insufficient
gas.  In response, the Bulgarians have proposed the purchase
of LNG to be delivered to Greece in exchange for either TGI
access or gas currently going through the export pipeline
from Russia and transiting Bulgarian territory.  Your
Bulgarian interlocutors may ask for U.S. support for these
schemes in our discussions with the Greeks and Turks. 

Bulgarians, Russians and Greeks signed a shareholders
agreement for the BAP oil pipeline in January during the
Putin visit.  Since then, the project company has been
registered, but little more progress has been made.  The
Bulgarians are still confident the pipeline will be built,
and seem surprisingly uninterested in the dynamics
surrounding CPC expansion.  With BAP's relative progress, the
AMBO (Albania-Macedonia-Bulgaria) oil pipeline project has
lost momentum.  Still, Bulgaria remains committed to AMBO and
is ready to move forward if and when AMBO attracts supply and

10.  (C)  BELENE:  In 2006 the GOB selected Russian
AtomstroyExport as the contractor for the new Belene nuclear
plant.  Bulgaria is keeping majority ownership of the plant,
but is in the process of selecting a strategic investor for
the other 49 percent.  RWE and the Belgian Electrabel are in
the running.  We have stated repeatedly that the choice of a
Russian contractor for Belene decreased Bulgaria's bid for
greater independence from Russian energy sources.  The lack
of transparency surrounding the tender has led to the
inescapable conclusion that the decision to choose Russia as
the Belene contractor was linked to the re-negotiation of
Bulgaria's long-term gas transit contract with Gazprom in
December 2006. 


11.  (C)  President Parvanov began his second five-year term
in 2007.  Parvanov's desire to exercise behind-the-scenes
influence over the government has led to tensions with his
former protege, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev.  Parvanov
has close ties to Russian politicians and held no less than
eight meetings with Vladimir Putin in the last seven years.
The energy summit will be under his aegis. 

--Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev is a 42-year-old
progressive Socialist.  He is pro-west and eager to have
Bulgaria viewed as a good friend and partner of the United
States.  He returned September 30 from a week-long visit to
the United States where he met with U/S Burns, spoke at the
Harvard Business School and held an investment forum.  He
understands that Bulgaria is overly dependent on Russian
energy sources, but sees Bulgaria as having few options for
greater energy independence. 

--Foreign Minister Kalfin is close to both Stanishev and
Parvanov and as Deputy Prime Minister oversees the Economy
and Energy Ministry.  He is a strong supporter of close
Bulgarian-U.S. relations and is highly conversant on energy

--Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov is a relative
new-comer to energy issues.  He is largely seen as taking
direction on energy matters from former Energy Minister Rumen
Ovcharov, who is linked with Russian energy interests and
left office in June 2007 after a corruption scandal. 

12.  (C)  Your visit will also highlight, though meetings and
press outreach, the need for Bulgaria to focus on a long-term
energy strategy not solely based on the transit of
hydrocarbons or the production of Russian-based nuclear
energy, but on the development of renewables, clean coal and
greater energy efficiency.  Bulgaria will always be dependent
on Russian energy to one extent or another. But as the most
energy inefficient economy in Europe, it can make meaningful
strides toward greater diversity away from Russian energy
sources.  With the price of energy at near record highs,
Russia's hydrocarbon-generated wealth is increasingly
circulating through the Bulgarian economy, making Bulgaria
all the more susceptible to Russian leverage.  An energy
strategy that focuses on renewables and efficiency is one
tool Bulgaria can use to put a noticeable dent in negative
Russian influence.  The other tool is transparency.  Hub
status in any industry is bestowed only on places which offer
transparent, efficient service.  To achieve its goal of
becoming a true energy center, we should recommend that
Bulgaria present itself not as the place with closest ties to
Russia, but as the most transparent place to do energy deals.