USSR and North Korea: friendship that almost ended in rupture
An ally, but not a satellite
Enough has been written about Kim Jong-un’s last visit to Russia and its geopolitical significance – especially for our country. I see no point in repeating what has already been said many times, but I propose to talk about the role of the DPRK on the Asian front of Soviet foreign policy during the period of the agony of South Vietnam, the aggravation of Soviet-Chinese relations, the sudden - for us, the visit of R. Nixon to Mao, prepared by G. Kissinger, became like snow on head - establishing US-Chinese dialogue.
Let us add to this the strengthening of contacts between Moscow and Delhi against the backdrop of the Third Indo-Pakistani War, when our 8th operational naval squadron actually prevented an attack by an American aircraft carrier group on the Indian the fleet and ground troops operating in East Bengal, and equipment supplied to the ground army showed yourself with dignity.
One should also take into account the gradual rapprochement between Beijing and Islamabad, which only strengthened our cooperation with I. Gandhi, but created, due to the desire of the “Country of the Pure” to squeeze into the club of nuclear powers with the help of the Celestial Empire, an explosive situation in the region.
Somewhat on the periphery of the painted picture stood the largest Muslim country - Indonesia. Lieutenant General M. Suharto, who came to power, broke off relations with the PRC and began rapprochement with the United States, simultaneously committing genocide of Chinese fellow citizens and literally physically destroying the Communist Party.
And finally, the main thing: the DPRK, along with Vietnam, not only half a century ago, but also until perestroika, remained the only ally of our country in the Far East. But it is precisely an ally, far from simple and not at all flexible, but certainly not a satellite, which, say, Japan and Germany are for the United States today.
The basis of relations between Pyongyang and Moscow during the period under review was “Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance"from 1961. However, it was then that a serious cooling in Soviet-North Korean relations occurred. For Pyongyang, like Beijing, did not hide its irritation with the results of the XNUMXth Congress of the CPSU. The latter's decisions
Khrushchev's cold shower, or you have to pay for everything
This is not surprising: the “Great Leader” treated I.V. Stalin with even greater reverence than the “Great Helmsman”, and also accused N.S. Khrushchev of revisionism. He did not remain in debt, canceled a previously planned visit to the DPRK, and in 1962 refused to provide it with military assistance on credit, offering to buy weapon.
Pyongyang reacted harshly:
From that time on, the “Juche” doctrine (the Kremlin, in turn, saw in it a departure from Marxism-Leninism, which was not without justice; moreover, in this way the “Great Leader” distanced himself not only from Moscow, but also from who was gaining weight in the international arena , especially in Latin America, Maoism - Author's note) was supplemented by the thesis “about self-defense in defense of the country.”
At the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Labor Party, N.S. Khrushchev personally and the internal and foreign policies of the Soviet Union were harshly criticized. There were even voices demanding that diplomatic relations with the USSR be broken.
As is known, it did not come to a break, but N. S. Khrushchev’s inflexibility in terms of arms supplies played, as subsequent events showed, a positive role in the creation of the DPRK’s own good military-industrial complex, allowing it, among other things, to export MRBMs abroad and forcing some American leaders will sit down at the negotiating table with the leader of a state they have recklessly labeled as a rogue state (for which on Capitol Hill they would be happy to prepare the fate of Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya).
L. I. Brezhnev melts North Korean ice
The coming to power of L. I. Brezhnev, coupled with the chaos that began in China as a result of the actions of the Red Guards, which worried Pyongyang, led to a warming of relations between the USSR and the DPRK. In 1965, A. N. Kosygin visited the North Korean capital; after all, Alexey Nikolaevich is an underestimated figure in the Soviet party elite. For it was he who, albeit for a short time, reconciled India and Pakistan - the Tashkent Declaration of 1966, tried to stabilize Soviet-Chinese relations by meeting with Zhou Enlai at the Beijing airport on September 11, 1969, and now it’s not time to go to Kim Il Sung The crack that arose in the relationship was also caused by the prime minister.
And as a result: North Korea’s debts were forgiven, and arms supplies were resumed. In 1965, a nuclear reactor was delivered to the Yongbyon Nuclear Science and Technology Center. True, the “Great Leader” asked the USSR for help in creating nuclear weapons, but was refused, as was the case with the PRC for a similar request.
The supply of modern Soviet weapons came at a very opportune time for Pyongyang: in 1967, relations between the PRC and the DPRK worsened, even to the point of incidents on the border. Against their background, in 1966, Kim Il Sung visited the USSR and held two, as A. Rozin writes, secret meetings with L. I. Brezhnev (presumably, the mentioned visit of A. N. Kosygin was akin to the arrival of G. Kissinger in Beijing: each prepared the ground and formulated the agenda for the meeting of state leaders).
However, even with the new Soviet leader, who was more loyal to Pyongyang (and Leonid Ilyich had enough of confrontation with Beijing against the backdrop of the difficult situation in Europe on the eve of Operation Danube), the dialogue was also not easy. The incident with the American reconnaissance vessel Pueblo captured by North Korean special forces in international waters in 1968 added fuel to the fire.
How the “Great Leader” almost drew the USSR into World War III
The crew did not have time to destroy secret documentation, from which it became obvious: the ship had previously carried out reconnaissance activities not only in the territorial waters of the DPRK, but also the PRC and the USSR.
Washington's reaction was predictable: Pyongyang was demanded to apologize and immediately release the sailors. However, the response was a demand to apologize to them. The United States threatened war, L. Johnson announced the mobilization of the Air Force Reserve, and American and South Korean troops were put on high alert. The situation was aggravated by the presence of nuclear weapons placed on South Korean territory by the Americans in 1958.
In this situation, the “Great Leader” remembered the 1961 treaty and demanded that Moscow provide military assistance to the DPRK in the event of an American attack, pushing the world to the brink of World War III for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Let us add to this the unpredictability of the steps of the PRC, whose relations with both Moscow and Pyongyang were more than cool.
Of course, the Kremlin was not delighted with the actions of the North Koreans and was looking for ways to peacefully resolve the conflict, trying to avoid involvement in it. In the end, Soviet diplomats managed to find an argument that allowed Moscow to deny Kim Il Sung the immediate military assistance he demanded: the DPRK was not the target of aggression.
And in Pyongyang and Washington themselves, despite mutual aggressive rhetoric, they sought to de-escalate, without expressing a genuine readiness to transfer the incident to the level of armed confrontation.
A military defeat could shake the image of Kim Il Sung as a leader and commander, and the United States had enough of Vietnam, and did not want to add to it a possible failure on the Korean Peninsula, where the mountainous and forested theater, coupled with good training and morale of the KPA, combat the experience of its command staff ruled out a quick victory.
Juche course, but with the help of Soviet military equipment
In 1971, the DPRK began to implement, according to A. Rozin, “the ideas of Juche (self-reliance) in the foreign policy of the DPRK, which was critically perceived in Moscow.”
Let me remind you: that year, after Henry Kissinger’s visit to Beijing, the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region was transformed (in fact, it was then that the foundation for the future military-economic rise of the PRC was laid). And relations with Pyongyang have acquired enormous importance for Moscow, especially within the framework of the concept of taking the Celestial Empire into a strategic ring, as discussed in my previous article on Soviet-Indian relations.
In the year mentioned above, deliveries of the latest T-62 began (the DPRK later launched the production of their licensed copy of the Chonma-Ho, exported including abroad - in particular to Iraq; one of tanks appeared as captured by the Americans during the 2003 invasion).
It was not in vain that I mentioned the T-62, since two years earlier it was the Chinese that were captured during the battles on Damansky, once again confirming the military-technical lag behind the USSR - the main battle tank of the PLA at that time was the Type-59, which was a copy of the Soviet T-54 (see content Article about the tank fleet of the KPA, which owes its creation to the USSR - his stories, combat use and the present).
Accordingly, the supply of modern military equipment to Pyongyang became a deterrent to Beijing’s aggressive policy not only on the Far Eastern borders of the USSR, but also on the Korean Peninsula; however, after the death of Mao, relations between the PRC and the DPRK began to improve.
Further, despite external friendship, writes historian P. A. Vasiliev,
And yet, in 1990, it remained significant. To the Soviet Union, according to the same author,
However, in the nineties, the palm in providing assistance to Pyongyang, forgotten by the last Soviet and first Russian presidents, passed to actively developing Beijing and became the key to the survival of the DPRK.
On the cyclical nature of Soviet/Russian-North Korean relations
In general, in a sense, the history of relations between the USSR/Russia and the DPRK is outwardly cyclical: just as after the Khrushchev cooling, the Brezhnev thaw came, and now, after the actual Yeltsin break, we are seeing a resuscitation of the dialogue.
And just as half a century ago, albeit obstinate, but allied, Pyongyang was necessary for Moscow as a counterweight to the PRC and the United States in the Far East, and now it is important as a link in the chain of countries breaking Russia’s isolation.
Vasiliev P. A. Relations of the USSR and Russia with North Korea // The Newman In Foreign Policy No. 54 (98) Vol. 3, June-July 2020
Vorontsov A.V. Russia and Korea (1945–1992) Kam Byung-hee; Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov, International Center for Korean Studies. – Moscow: b. i., 1993.
Zabrovskaya L.V. The influence of perestroika on the nature of relations between the USSR and the DPRK // Russia and the Asia-Pacific Region, 2016. No. 1. P. 46–56.
Klitin A. “Pueblo” Incident // https://ushistory.ru/populjarnaja-literatura/341-intsident-pueblo.
Kobelev E.V. 65 years with Vietnam. Memories. M.: IKSA RAS, 2022.
Rozin A. Soviet Navy and North Korean Navy (DPRK).
Text agreement of 1961.
- Igor Khodakov
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