It is more than 26 years since Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan. But today Russia, once again, is at war outside the former Soviet Union - in Syria.The BBC ' s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow met some veterans of that Soviet war to find out what lessons were learnt. Modern Russia often claims it has learnt the lessons of Afghanistan, and that never again will it allow itself to be sucked into a long bloody war, far from its borders. Singer, songwriter and war veteran Vladimir Mazur hopes that is true. " We lost so many young men in Afghanistan, " he sings, " but there ' s no point grieving. We just have to make sure it never happens again. " At a war veterans ' organization in Moscow, he picks up his guitar and performs one of his songs. It ' s called Afghanistan Statistics. " None of the soldiers who were in Afghanistan, " he sings, " will ever forget it ". " One in five of us have nothing now in their lives. One in seven is divorced. " One in eight came back with medals, only to be told, later, they were no heroes. " One in nine has nightmares still. One in ten never returned. But war always claims lives. " Afghanistan claimed the lives of more than 15,000 Soviet soldiers. In his song, Vladimir Mazur describes the Afghan war as " a trap… a noose around our necks. " Mazur served two years in Afghanistan as a conscript. He has written more than 150 songs about the conflict. " Every soldier who was there thought about life and death, " Vladimir recalls. " We all thought we might not make it out alive. I felt such a need to leave something of me behind on this Earth. So I began writing songs. " The main lesson of Afghanistan is that politicians should think twice before getting involved in a military conflict. War is always bad. It shows the weakness of politicians. "Back to warFor a month now in Syria, Russian bombers have been carrying out air strikes, in what Moscow calls a war on international terrorism. Russia insists it will not deploy ground troops and that Syria will not become a second Afghanistan. " We have a memory not only of Afghanistan, but also other wars in which Russia was involved. For us it ' s a very big issue, " Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told me. " We are not willing or planning to be involved in a long - term war. We are providing a counter - terrorism operation there. " Western leaders suspect the primary objective of Russia ' s air campaign is to keep Syrian President Bashar al - Assad in power, rather than eliminate terrorists. They accuse Moscow of targeting, more widely, opponents of President Assad. Russia resents being told by the West who are the terrorists and who are not. " Do you remember 9/11? " asks Zakharova. " Did Russia ever ask America who exactly it was struggling with? No, we didn ' t. We understood that this was a threat for the United States and we fully supported their struggle against international terrorism. We provided all our help to struggle with this evil. "Russia joins Syrian war: Key pointsFor now, most Russians support their country ' s military intervention in Syria. That ' s partly because of the way Russian television has been reporting it.TV dramaWith dramatic background music, and sweeping cinema - style aerial views of battle, at times the Syrian war is being made to look more HollyWood than Homs; like a pop video, a computer game - a TV war you can switch on and switch off again. I discussed the media coverage with another veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Vladimir Barabanov. " Most people here might see this now as an action movie, " Vladimir tells me, " but when the war comes knocking at their door, when the coffins start coming home, that ' s when the reality will hit them. " Vladimir does not accept that four weeks of Russian air strikes, as well as two dozen cruise missiles fired from the Caspian Sea, have helped Russia reassert itself on the world stage. " Greatness is measured by a country ' s economic standing, " he tells me. " China earns respect without waging a war. A hooligan can go around boasting that he ' s hit someone. But hooligans are generally from poor families; their main argument is their fists. " People will only envy Russia if we improve people ' s standard of living here. If we just wave our fists around, who will envy us then? " First published inBBC