USSR and the UN Military Operation in the Congo 1960—1964
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USSR and the UN Military Operation in the Congo 1960—1964
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Sergey Mazov 
Affiliation: Institute of World History RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow

Drawing on UN documents, materials from Russian and British archives, the author examined the evolution of the Soviet line towards the UN military operation in the Congo in 1960—1964, exposed the intentions of the Soviet leadership to employ the UN military contingent in achieving its goals in the Congo, showed how the actions of the Western powers, their Congolese allies and the UN leadership frustrated the Soviet plans. The Soviet posture regarding the UN operation in the Congo varied depending on the escalation of the Congo crisis and its main actors’ behavior. At the initial stage (July — early August 1960), Khrushchev considered the conception of Africanization of resolving the crisis, submitted by Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, suitable for turning UN forces into an instrument to protect the Lumumba government and increase Soviet influence in the Congo. The Soviet representative to the UN Security Council suggested that the Congolese operation be conducted by African states, and the USSR bypassed the UN by providing its civilian planes to transport the Ghanaian contingent of UN troops from Accra to Leopoldville. Since the Blue Helmets were used in the Congo, in the opinion of the Soviet government, “inappropriately”, i.e., not against Belgian forces and the Katanga separatists, it demanded that the UN command be replaced on August 6, 1960. Lumumba tried to regain control of Katanga by his own forces, but was ousted in two coups d’état in September 1960, directly supported by UN troops. Nikita Khrushchev did not intervene militarily in the Congo and privately called Nkrumah to allocate a Ghanaian contingent of UN troops at the disposal of Lumumba’s government. This was impossible without Soviet military support, but Khrushchev did not promise it. After Lumumba’s assassination, which became known on February 13, 1961, the USSR demanded the termination of the UN operation in the Congo within a month and the removal of the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld as an “accomplice” to the Lumumba massacre. The overwhelming majority of UN members favored keeping UN troops in the Congo and Hammarskjöld as Secretary General. After the withdrawal of contingents of leftist African countries from the Congo in the winter and spring of 1961, the Soviet Union lost any ability to influence the UN operation in the Congo. It supported the military operations launched by the Blue Helmets against the Katanga separatists (December 1961 — January 1963) as being aimed at “the liquidation of the hotbed of interference of the colonial powers and their agents in Katanga”. After restoring territorial integrity of the Congo, the Soviet Union renewed its campaign for the withdrawal of UN troops and refused to participate in financing their upkeep. The Blue Helmets remained in the Congo until June 1964. The USSR failed to prevent the U.S. from turning the UN troops into a tool to combat “communist infiltration” in the Congo, and this contributed substantially to the Western victory in the battle for the “heart of Africa”.

the UN military operation in the Congo 1960—1964, Congolese crisis 1960—1965, UN peacekeeping operations, Cold War, international relations
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