The USSR developed two tools that changed the world: airplane hijackings and state-sponsorship of terror
Pilot Juergen Schumann sits in the open door of Lufthansa airplane Landshut at the airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on Oct. 15, 1977, prior to being killed by members of the Red Army Faction who had hijacked the flight / AP
This post is part of a 12-part series exploring how the U.S.-Russia relationship has shaped the world since the December 1991 end of the Soviet Union. Read the full series here.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Soviet Union sponsored waves of political violence against the West. The Red Brigades in Italy and the German Red Army Faction both terrorized Europe through bank robberies, kidnapping, and acts of sabotage. The Soviets wanted to use these left-wing terror groups to destabilize Italy and Germany to break up NATO. State-sponsored terrorism was a deeply Soviet phenomenon, but its practice did not stop when the Soviet Union ended. While state sponsorship continues, terrorism has mutated into something even harder for us to understand and respond to. But some of the roots of today's terrorism go back to the Soviet Union.
Russia is the birthplace of modern terrorism. The Russian nihilists of the 19th century combined political powerlessness with a propensity for gruesome violence, but their attacks were aimed at the Tsarist state and ruling classes. Later, the Soviet Union and its allies actively supported terrorism as a means to politically inconvenience and undermine its opponents. The East German Stasi and the KGB provided funds, equipment, and "networking" opportunities to the myriad of leftist German terrorist cells in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The Red Army Faction and the 2nd June Movement in Germany, as well as the Red Brigades in Italy, shared Marxist philosophies, a hatred of America, solidarity with the Palestinians, and opposition to the generation, some of its members still in power, that had supported the Nazis and fascists. They were good foundations for a Cold War fifth column. It was not just Europe, either: Soviet equipment, funding, training and guidance flowed across the globe, either directly from the KGB or through the agencies of key allies, like the Rumanian Securitate, the Cuban General Intelligence Directorate.