Strengthening Ties with the Soviet Union and Its Allies

Angola Table of Contents

The Nitista plot shook the Neto regime severely and was a stark reminder of the young government's vulnerability in the face of internal factionalism and South African destabilization efforts. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt, the government came to the realization that its survival depended on continued support from the Soviet Union and its allies. Consequently, the government's reliance on Soviet and Cuban military support increased, as did its commitment to Marxist-Leninist ideology.

A new phase of Angola's formal relationship with the Soviet Union had already begun in October 1976, when Neto signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union pledging both signatories to mutual military cooperation. The treaty was significant in global terms in that it gave the Soviet Union the right to use Angolan airports and Luanda harbor for military purposes, enabling the Soviet Union to project its forces throughout the South Atlantic region.

For the Soviet Union, its intervention in Angola was a major foreign policy coup. Soviet leaders correctly judged that the United States, because of its recent Vietnam experience, would be reluctant to intervene heavily in a distant, low-priority area. Conditions would thus be created in which the Soviet Union could exert its influence and gain a firm foothold in southern Africa. In addition, South African involvement in Angola convinced most members of the OAU that Soviet support for the Angolan government was a necessary counterweight to South African destabilization efforts. Furthermore, United States support for UNITA during the civil war had tainted the United States in the eyes of the OAU and many Western governments, which perceived a South African-American link.

Beginning in 1978, periodic South African incursions into southern Angola, coupled with UNITA's northward expansion in the east, forced the Angolan government to increase expenditures on Soviet military aid and to depend even more on military personnel from the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and Cuba.

The Angolan government's relationships with the Soviet Union and Cuba were linked in some ways but distinct in other respects. Clearly, the Soviets and Cubans were both attracted to the Angolan government's Marxist-Leninist orientation, and Cuba generally followed the Soviet Union's lead in the latter's quest for international influence. Nonetheless, Cuba had its own agenda in Angola, where Cuban leader Fidel Castro believed that by supporting an ideologically compatible revolutionary movement he could acquire international status independent of the Soviet Union.

Although Soviet and Cuban interests in Angola usually converged, there were also disagreements, mostly because of the factionalism within the MPLA-PT. On the one hand, the Soviet Union seemed to have favored Minister of Interior Alves's more radical viewpoints over those of Neto and probably supported the Nitista coup attempt in 1977. The Cubans, on the other hand, played an active military role in foiling the coup attempt and increased their troop presence in Angola shortly thereafter in support of the Neto regime.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress