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Soviet Involvement in the Vietnam War

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   MOSCOW (AP) -- The Soviet Union sent 3,000 troops to Vietnam during the U.S.
involvement there, according to the first account in the Soviet press about the
secret military action.
   In 1965, Soviet soldiers shot down the first U.S. planes lost in Vietnam, the
magazine Eko Planety (Echo of the Planet) reported.
   The Soviet Defense Ministry previously has acknowledged that Soviet advisers
served in Vietnam, and that 13 were killed. But no details of their activities
have been published before in the Soviet Union, the Tass news agency reported
   Tass said the magazine's account was based on interviews with those who
carried out Soviet policy in Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s,
including Ilya Shcherbakov, the Soviet ambassador to Vietnam from 1964-1974.
   It was written by a former Tass correspondent who reported from Vietnam
during the war, Alexander Minayev.
   Shcherbakov said the Soviet government was very restrained in the conflict
between Communist North Vietnam and the U.S.-backed South.
   "But the Tonkin incident confronted Nikita Khrushchev with a dilemma," the
article said, referring to U.S. retaliation in 1964 for an alleged attack by
North Vietnam on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The incident prompted the
United States to escalate greatly its troop presence and involvement in the war.
   "On the one hand, North Vietnam, a socialist country, had suffered from air
strikes and shelling from the sea. On the other, the shock of the Caribbean
crisis was still quite fresh in his memory," it said, a reference to the 1962
Cuban Missile Crisis.
   "Khrushchev decided to send a new ambassador to Hanoi to clarify the
situation," and Shcherbakov got the job, the article said.
   The magazine said then-Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin warned Shcherbakov to
"keep both eyes open" to avert Soviet involvement in the war when he visited the
country in 1965.
   By that time, however, Khrushchev was out of power and had been replaced by
Leonid Brezhnev, who according to Shcherbakov favored more direct involvement to
aid North Vietnam.
   Soviet aid began flowing to North Vietnam in early 1965, the magazine said.
In August 1965, Soviet forces shot down the first U.S. planes. But after 1966,
it said no Soviet troops directly participated in combat because the Vietnamese
forces had been trained to handle the Soviet equipment.
   North Vietnam independently planned and carried out operations in South
Vietnam, according to Shcherbakov and Col.-Gen. Vladimir Abramov, who led a
group of Soviet military advisers in the region. The two said they were not even
told of the Vietnamese commander's plans.
   The war began in 1954 and ended with a Communist victory in 1975.