A Brief History of Soviet Support for Terrorism

AP telegraph.co.uk Pilot Juergen Schumann sits in the doorway of a Lufthansa plane in Dubai on Oct. 15, 1977, prior to being murdered by Red Army Faction leaders.

The reign of terror the Soviet Union inflicted upon its citizens is well-documented, but what’s less well-known is the impact it had abroad.

Though it brutally crushed protest movements within its borders, the Soviet Union actively funded terrorist separatist groups across the globe. To undermine governments outside the Eastern Bloc, they provided leftist terror cells worldwide with arms, equipment, and connections to higher-level government operatives able to organize and connect terrorists across continents.

In Germany, the Red Army Faction and the 2nd June Movement were two such groups. In Italy, the Red Brigades were aided similarly.

Each of these groups received Soviet equipment and training, sometimes directly from the Soviet government and sometimes through Soviet-allied governments such as Cuba. These governments and groups then worked to further disseminate weapons across the globe, leading to a diaspora of Soviet equipment among left-wing governments and radical groups.

One place the Soviet support was particularly successful in breeding terror was Palestine.

Soviet support of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s airplane hijacking campaign led to an exponential expansion of its scale: in the early 1960s, there was an average of five hijackings a year, but with Soviet support, the PLO was able to hijack 82 aircraft in 1969 alone. Soviet support was so successful that the KGB’s General Alexander Sakharovsky bragged that, “Airplane hijacking is my own invention.” During this time, the scale of the conflict increased significantly, tensions heightened between Israel and Palestine, and radicals were given a platform which they retain to this day — hearkening back to the Soviet training, financing, and organization which initiated the campaign of violence.

The story of Soviet support for terrorism is a cautionary tale.

Many Soviet-backed organizations remained potent for years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and many remain active to this day. Regardless of the regime behind them, state-sponsored terrorist organisations take on lives of their own and may present threats for decades — which is why it is puzzling that countries with huge diplomatic clout, such as the United States and Canada, still turn a blind eye to the role state sponsorship plays in facilitating terror across the Middle East. It’s time to apply the lessons we learned from the Soviets and crack down on the funding Saudi Arabia, Iran, and others funnel to extremists. If not, the radical organizations they support will likely outlive us all.

Kate Kleinle

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