The BBC's Richard Galpin has been speaking to experts and veterans, who remember the withdrawal after 10 years of occupation as a traumatic and humiliating experience.
Lt Gen Ruslan Aushev, a Hero of the Soviet Union, sports a moustache that hangs over his mouth like a heavy velvet curtain.
But from the dark morass emerge words of precision and directness that befit a much-decorated commander of the Soviet military venture in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"We were there for 10 years and we lost more than 14,000 soldiers, but what was the result? Nothing," he tells me as we sit in his office on one of central Moscow's most fashionable streets.
"[After the Soviet withdrawal] there was a second civil war and then the Taleban appeared. We wanted to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, but in fact everything got worse," he adds.
Such frank admissions of failure are common amongst the Russian veterans who are attending a series of commemorative events this weekend, exactly 20 years after the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan.