In 1982, when he turned 18, he joined the Red Army and served a tour in Afghanistan. His time in Afghanistan left him shaken. Although he had signed up willingly, as part of his patriotic duty, he soon regretted it. The horrors of war he experienced in Afghanistan hardened him. It made him a quiet, colder man. He did not like sharing his experiences, unless the situation merited it. Much of the time, the most people could extract from him about his service was that he had been in Afghanistan in the first place. His time in the Army, although important to his development, was not well received by Valery. When it came time for him to leave in 1985, he asked to remain in the reserves, which was accepted. After his formal discharge from front line duty, he attended Moscow State University.
While at Moscow State University, he studied nuclear physics. Often regarded as one of the top in his class, he was allowed to compete for credits. His tuition being covered by his military service. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident had disillusioned many students with nuclear physics, so Valery was in a rather small class. While he was at university, he studied English. As he learned from a British teacher, he did not develop a strong Ukrainian accent when speaking English, but a slight accent was still detectable. Even so, the profession was respectable, and would earn him much prestige and a comparatively good salary. While he was at university, Valery joined the Communist Party at the behest of his father. Although he did not particularly care for politics, he realised that being a party member could only help his career. He graduated from the university in 1989 with a masters' degree in nuclear physics.