The Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, once told his British counterpart that Nato was making all the same mistakes that the Soviet army did in the country in the 1980s.
When Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador, asked if Mr Kabulov would explain what those mistakes were, the reply was a quick and simple “No!”. It was a joke, but, like most Russian ones, it was rooted in an uncomfortable truth.
“The Soviet Union tried to bring socialism to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, you are trying to do the same with democracy,” Mr Kabulov, who served in Kabul in the 1980s, told The Times.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan 29 years ago it, too, wanted to overthrow a hostile government and install a more compliant regime. Nine years and 15,000 lives later, the mighty Red Army retreated, worn down by a relentless Islamist insurgency, in a defeat that precipitated the Soviet collapse two years later.