Chinese Cold War Front
The USSR lost in a double confrontation against the West and the East
It is the Soviet-American confrontation, the rivalry between the USSR and the United States that is firmly associated with the term "cold war". Here the collective memory of Russia has almost forgotten that for most of the Cold War, the Soviet Union fought on two fronts - not only against the capitalist West, but also against socialist China.
Russian with Chinese brothers forever
In 1953, when the fighting in Korea ended, an entire Soviet army was stationed in China, which controlled one of the key points of the country - the Kwantung Peninsula. Seven divisions of the 39th Soviet Army were based in Port Arthur and the surrounding area. In 1945, it was these units that smashed the bastions of East Prussia, and then the fortified areas of the Kwantung Army of Japan. In the middle of the last century, these were the most efficient troops throughout China.
In the Far East, the Stalinist USSR in the early 50s kept an impressive army grouping: five tank divisions, over 30 infantry and an entire airborne corps (numerically equal to all the landing forces of modern Russia). Stalin left only half the number of troops in the Far East than in the summer of 1945, when three Soviet fronts were assembled here for the war with Japan. In the balance of world forces, this power served not only as a counterbalance to the Americans who settled in Japan and southern Korea, but also additionally guaranteed the loyalty of the Chinese ally.
Nikita Khrushchev, in the euphoria of friendship with Mao Zedong, did what the Japanese generals failed in August 1945 - defeated the entire Far Eastern group of Soviet troops. In 1954, Port Arthur and Dalny were returned to China - although during the Korean War it was the Chinese, who feared the United States, who themselves asked to leave Soviet military bases here.
In 1955-57, the armed forces of the USSR decreased by more than two million. The reasons for such a reduction in the new conditions were understandable and even justified, but it was carried out extremely hastily and thoughtlessly. The Trans-Baikal and Far Eastern military districts adjacent to China suffered especially. Khrushchev, who would fall out with Mao in the next few years, assumed that the USSR did not need ground troops on the Chinese border.
Simultaneously with the reductions, there was a withdrawal of troops from the Far East. From Transbaikalia and Mongolia, units of the 6th Tank Army left for Ukraine, which in 1945 took Vienna and liberated Prague, and during the war with Japan overcame the mountains of the Great Khingan, impassable for tanks. The 25th Army, located at the junction of the borders of Korea, the USSR and China, was also liquidated - in 1945 it was its troops who occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel and approved the future North Korean leader Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang.
By the beginning of the 60s, another Khrushchev reduction of the army began in the USSR, this time the head of the country planned to dismiss more than a million military personnel. This reform will begin, but it will be stopped precisely because of the changes in relations with China.
Relations between Moscow and Beijing under Khrushchev changed rapidly. We will not dwell in detail on the political and ideological vicissitudes of the Soviet-Chinese split - we will limit ourselves to only a brief summary of the course of events that led to military rivalry and an almost open war between the two socialist powers.
Back in 1957, the USSR and the PRC signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation, according to which the Soviet Union actually presented China with documentation for the creation of an atomic bomb. In just two years, Comrade Khrushchev will try to stop the implementation of this treaty, and a year later, just as thoughtlessly and hastily, he will withdraw all military advisers and technical specialists from China.
Until 1960, with the help of the USSR, they managed to build a hundred large enterprises of the military industry in China. Moscow supplies the Chinese with modern weapons for 60 divisions. Until the mid-60s, relations with Beijing were constantly deteriorating, but remained within the framework of diplomatic and ideological disputes. Already in July 1960, Chinese delegations from neighboring provinces defiantly ignored the invitation to the jubilee celebrations dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of Vladivostok.
So that Mao would not be ashamed to openly argue with the Kremlin, by 1964 the Chinese had paid the USSR all the debts on loans received from Stalin and Khrushchev - almost one and a half billion foreign exchange rubles, which is about 100 billion modern dollars.
An attempt by Kosygin and Brezhnev to normalize relations with Mao after Khrushchev was removed from power failed. In May 1965, a delegation of Chinese generals visited Moscow for the last time to participate in the celebration of the victory in the Great Patriotic War.
China's trade with the Soviet Union declined by almost 1960 times in 1967-16. By the 70s, economic ties will be practically severed. Back in the 50s, the USSR accounted for more than half of China's foreign trade turnover - then the PRC, which had not yet become a "world factory", was a huge and profitable market for Soviet industry. The conflict with China was a serious blow to the Soviet economy.
The end of the process of breaking off bilateral ties was the refusal of the Chinese Communist Party from an invitation to send a delegation to the 22rd Congress of the CPSU, which was openly announced in an official letter to the CPC Central Committee on March 1966, XNUMX. In the same year, all Chinese officers who had previously studied at Soviet military academies left the USSR. The latent conflict quickly surfaced.
Clouds go gloomy on the border
The ideological differences between the USSR and China were supplemented by problems with the demarcation of the common border. Fulfilling the directives of Beijing, the Chinese tried to immediately correct it in their favor. The first border conflict took place in the summer of 1960 on the western section of the Soviet-Chinese border, in the area of the Buz-Aigyr pass on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. While such skirmishes passed without weapons and confined themselves to a demonstrative violation by the Chinese of the "wrong", in their opinion, border.
If during 1960 about a hundred such incidents were recorded, then in 1962 there were already 5 thousand of them. From 1964 to 1968, more than 6 demonstrative border violations involving tens of thousands of Chinese were noted in the Pacific Border District alone.
By the mid-60s, the Kremlin realized that the world's longest land border - almost 10 thousand kilometers, including the "buffer" Mongolia - now not only ceased to be a "border of friendship", but was virtually defenseless in the face of the most populated country from the very the largest land army in the world.
The armed forces of China were less equipped than the troops of the USSR or the United States, but they were not weak. On the example of the recent Korean War, military experts from both Moscow and Washington took them seriously. But the United States is separated from China by an ocean, and Moscow, under the new conditions, was left alone in a confrontation with its former ally.
While the USSR was withdrawing and reducing its troops in the Far East, China, on the contrary, increased the size of its army in Manchuria near the Soviet borders. In 1957, it was here that the "Chinese volunteers" withdrawn from Korea were accommodated. Then along the Amur and Ussuri, the PRC authorities resettled more than 100 thousand former military personnel.
The USSR was forced to significantly strengthen the border protection of its Far Eastern borders. On February 4, 1967, the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers adopted a resolution "On strengthening the protection of the state border with the People's Republic of China." In the Far East, a separate Trans-Baikal border district and 126 new border outposts are being created, new roads, engineering and signal barriers are being built on the border with China. If before the start of the conflict, the density of border guards on the borders of China was less than a person per kilometer of the border, then by 1969 it had increased to four border guards per kilometer.
Even after the strengthening, the border guards could not protect the border in the event of a large-scale conflict. By this time, the Chinese authorities had transferred 22 more divisions from the depths of the country, the total number of Chinese troops in the regions bordering the USSR reached 400 thousand people. A serious military infrastructure was created in Manchuria: engineering barriers, underground shelters, roads and airfields were built.
By the end of the 60s, the northern grouping of the People's Liberation Army of China (PLA) consisted of nine combined-arms armies (44 divisions, of which 11 were mechanized), more than 4 thousand tanks and 10 thousand guns. The regular troops were supplemented by local people's militia of up to 30 infantry divisions.
In which case, these forces were opposed by only two dozen motorized rifle divisions of the Trans-Baikal and Far Eastern districts, while for the last 10 years all these units were considered rear, the supply of which was carried out according to the "residual principle." All the tank units of the Trans-Baikal District under Khrushchev were disbanded or withdrawn to the west, beyond the Urals. A similar fate befell one of the two tank divisions that remained in the Far Eastern District.
Before World War II, the borders in the Far East and Transbaikalia were covered by numerous fortified areas created back in the 30s, created in case of war with Japan. After 1945, these fortifications were mothballed, and under Khrushchev they fell into complete desolation.
Since the mid-60s, the leadership of the USSR began to urgently restore the fortifications and transfer the tanks of the end of World War II to the Far East - they were no longer suitable against modern US technology, their engines were worn out, they could not participate in the offensive, but they were still capable of repelling attacks by numerous Chinese infantry.
"Red SS" against the Red Guards
In 1968, the beginning of the transfer of troops from west to east was suspended, as significant military forces of the USSR were needed for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But the lack of shots in Prague turned into a lot of gunfire on the Chinese border. Mao Zedong reacted very nervously to how Moscow, with the help of tanks, exchanges a disobedient socialist leader in a neighboring country for its protégé. But in Moscow during these years, Mao's main rival in the internal party struggle, Wang Ming, was sitting out. And the situation inside China and its Communist Party, after the crisis of the "Great Leap Forward" and the revelry of the Red Guards and the internal party struggle, was far from stable. Under these conditions, Mao feared that Moscow had every chance to do in Beijing what it did in Prague. The Chinese leader decided to play it safe and prepare China for an open military clash with the USSR.
In early March 1969, in the area of Damansky Island, the Chinese side deliberately provoked a border conflict that ended not just with shooting, but with real battles with tank attacks and massive artillery fire. Mao used this incident to whip up anti-Russian hysteria and bring the entire country and army to full combat readiness. He was not going to start a big war, but the conditions of actual mobilization and pre-war time allowed him to securely hold power in his hands.
The battles on Damanskoye provoked an equally nervous reaction from the Kremlin. Brezhnev and his entourage considered Mao a frostbitten fanatic capable of unpredictable adventures. At the same time, Moscow understood that China and its army were a very serious military enemy. Since 1964, China has had its own atomic bomb, and Mao has quite openly declared that he is preparing for a world nuclear war.
Vladimir Kryuchkov, the former head of the KGB, and in those years one of Andropov's deputies, recalled in his memoirs how it was in 1969 that a real quiet panic began in the Kremlin, when a message was broadcast through intelligence channels that Chinese nuclear weapons had been secretly transferred to Romania. In those years, the main Romanian communist Ceausescu also fought against the Kremlin, and Mao claimed the role of the world communist leader, a real fighter for the world revolution, an alternative to the Kremlin bureaucrats - “revisionists”.
Information about a Chinese nuclear bomb in Romania was not confirmed, but it spoiled a lot of nerves for Brezhnev - the Kremlin even considered for some time the possibility of a preemptive bombing strike. aviation on nuclear facilities in China. At the same time, Chinese-made chemical weapons appeared in Albania - Beijing tried to support socialist regimes that did not agree with Moscow.
Because of these events and the mutual game on the nerves, civilian traffic on the Trans-Siberian railway stopped for almost two months - in May-June 1969, hundreds of military echelons moved east from the center of the USSR. The USSR Ministry of Defense announced large-scale military exercises with the participation of the headquarters and troops of the Far Eastern, Trans-Baikal, Siberian and Central Asian military districts.
In May 1969, the USSR began to call up reservists to replenish the troops being transferred to the Far East. And the summoned were escorted as to a real war.
Soviet divisions advanced directly to the Chinese border. Peking radio broadcasts for the USSR broadcast in Russian that the PRC is not afraid of the "red SS". The Chinese generals understood that the USSR, if it wished, could repeat what it had already done on the territory of China with the Kwantung Army of Japan. The Kremlin also had no doubt that concentrated Soviet divisions would be able to repeat August 1945, but they understood that after the initial success, the war would come to a strategic impasse, bogged down in hundreds of millions of Chinese.
Both sides feverishly prepared for battle and were terribly afraid of each other. In August 1969, there was a skirmish between Soviet border guards and the Chinese on the border in Kazakhstan near the mountain lake Zhalanashkol, on both sides there were killed and wounded.
The tension that frightened everyone was somewhat defused in the fall of 1969, when the head of the Soviet government, Kosygin, flew to Beijing for negotiations. It was not possible to end the military-political confrontation, but the danger of an immediate war was over. In the next decade and a half, skirmishes and skirmishes will periodically occur on the border between the PRC and the USSR, sometimes even with the use of military equipment and helicopters.
Small groups of a million people
From now on, the USSR had to keep a powerful military grouping against China, and build many fortified areas along the hundreds of kilometers of the Chinese border. But the security costs of the Far East were not limited to direct military spending. This region was connected with the country by one single thread - the Trans-Siberian Railway, east of Chita and Khabarovsk, which ran literally right next to the border with China. In the event of a military conflict, the Transsib was unable to provide reliable transport links with the Far East.
In 1967, the USSR recalled the project of the Baikal-Amur Mainline, begun in the 30s during the military conflicts with Japan. The railway laid in the deep taiga 300-400 kilometers to the north was supposed to become a backup for the Transsib in the deep and safe rear. After Stalin's death, this extremely expensive and complex project was frozen. It was only the conflict with China that once again forced a return to costly and complex construction in the middle of the deserted taiga in the permafrost zone. BAM (Baikal-Amur Mainline) is considered the most expensive infrastructure project in the USSR, at least $ 80 billion in modern prices.
Since the late 60s, the "cold war" for the USSR has been going on two fronts - against the richest and most developed states of the planet, in the form of the United States and its NATO allies, and against China, the most populous state on Earth with the world's largest land army.
The number of Chinese infantry by the 70s of the last century reached 3,5 million "bayonets" with several tens of millions of militias. Soviet generals had to think about new tactical and operational methods of dealing with such an enemy. Millions of Chinese soldiers with clones of the Soviet "Kalashnikov" the USSR then could oppose only the superiority of its technology.
Leonid Yuzefovich, in his book about Baron Ungern, recalled those events when he served as a lieutenant in Transbaikalia: “In the summer of 1971, not far from Ulan-Ude, our motorized rifle company with a platoon of fifty-fours attached to it conducted field tactical exercises. We practiced the techniques of a tank landing. Two years earlier, during the battles in Damanskoye, the Chinese from hand grenade launchers deftly set fire to the tanks moving on them, and now, as an experiment, new tactics that were not reflected in the field manual were tested on us ... "
At the training grounds near Ulan-Ude, then the interaction of the infantry and tanks of the part of the 39th combined-arms army recently created here was practiced. This army was destined to play a decisive role in the event of an open war with China. Back in 1966, the USSR signed a new cooperation agreement with Mongolia. Just as sometime before 1945, when the Japanese troops stationed in Manchuria were intimidated by the Mongols, now, even more, Ulaanbaatar feared the unpredictability of the Chinese. Therefore, the Mongols willingly agreed to re-deploy Soviet troops on their territory.
Tank and motorized rifle divisions of the 39th Army stationed in Mongolia, in the event of a major war, actually had to repeat the path of the Soviet troops advancing from here against the Japanese in August 1945. Only taking into account the new technical capabilities and speed of the tank forces, such a blow in scope was supposed to exceed the scale of the last summer of World War II. Due to the fact that Mongolia cuts deeply into the territory of China, the Soviet units of the Trans-Baikal Military District had to bypass Beijing from the south with a tank attack to the southeast and reach the shores of the Yellow Sea near the Bohai Bay.
Thus, in one blow, the vast Manchuria, with its developed economy, and the capital of China itself were cut off from the great China. The outer front of such an encirclement would be based on the northern bank of the Yellow River - the significant technical superiority of Soviet aviation then ensured that the Chinese could not maintain reliable ferries for technology. At the same time, large Chinese forces concentrated in Manchuria to attack the Soviet Primorye would have been forced to abandon attacks by Soviet fortifications on the border and urgently attend to the salvation of Beijing.
First socialist war
After fighting and maneuvers on the 1969 border, another exacerbation happened 7 years later, when 83-year-old Mao died in Beijing for several months. Fearing political upheavals within China, which was then too tied to the personality of the "great helmsman", the USSR put the Trans-Baikal and Far Eastern military districts on alert.
A new round of war-balancing tensions occurred in early 1979, when China launched a massive invasion of Vietnam. The reason was border disputes and the problems of the Chinese diaspora oppressed by the Vietnamese - the Vietnamese communists were no less nationalists than their colleagues from China.
In the Western media, the armed conflict between China and Vietnam, which literally yesterday jointly opposed the United States, was not without gloating called the "first socialist war." But Vietnam was then also the USSR's closest ally in the Asian region. An ally who not only successfully held out against the Americans, but also very successfully “surrounded” China from the south for Moscow. After the apparent defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War, Moscow openly perceived China as the No. 1 enemy in the Asian region. Fearing that during the outbreak of war the Chinese would crush Vietnam, the Kremlin reacted quickly and harshly.
On the territory of Mongolia, which in Beijing had long been perceived solely as a convenient Soviet staging area for attacking China, demonstrative and large-scale maneuvers of Soviet troops began. At the same time, divisions of the Trans-Baikal and Far Eastern districts, the Pacific Fleet and all Soviet missile units in the Far East were put on alert. Additional tank divisions were transferred to Mongolia. In total, almost three thousand tanks were set in motion.
In February 1979, the High Command of the Far East Troops was created - in fact, the front-line association of the Trans-Baikal and Far Eastern military districts. From the headquarters bunkers near Ulan-Ude, they were preparing to lead a tank breakthrough to Beijing.
In March 1979, in just two days, one of the most elite airborne divisions, the 106th Guards Airborne, was deployed in full force from Tula to Chita by transport aviation. This was followed by a demonstrative landing of Soviet airborne troops with equipment directly on the Mongol-Chinese border.
Within two days at the airfields of Mongolia, having covered 7 thousand kilometers by air, several hundred combat aircraft landed, arriving from air bases in Ukraine and Belarus. In total, almost a thousand of the most modern aircraft took part in the exercises on the border of the PRC. At that time, China was especially far behind the USSR precisely in the field of aviation, and the Chinese Air Force and Air Defense then could not oppose several thousand of the most modern bombers.
At the same time in the South China Sea, near the borders of China and Vietnam, a group of the Pacific fleet in the composition of fifty ships. Detachments of ships left Murmansk and Sevastopol to strengthen the Pacific Fleet. And in Primorye, right next to the Chinese border, they conducted an equally demonstrative exercise for the landing of the 55th Marine Division.
By the middle of March 1979, the USSR began a demonstrative mobilization of reservists - in a few days in the Far East, over 50 thousand "assigned personnel" were called up to the divisions raised by alarm. More than 20 thousand reservists with experience in the army were called up in the Central Asian Military District, which also conducted demonstrative maneuvers near the borders with Chinese Xinjiang. A few days later, something happened in the USSR that had not happened practically since the Great Patriotic War - in the collective farms of Siberia and the Far East, they began to mobilize trucks.
Beijing's nerves could not stand it - such measures according to all the laws of military logistics were the last on the eve of the offensive. Despite the fact that the operation against Vietnam was developing successfully - several cities were captured, two Vietnamese divisions were surrounded and defeated - China began to withdraw its troops.
"Union of an eagle and a dragon against a bear"
The great maneuvers of March 1979 actually allowed the USSR to bloodlessly win the local war against China. But even bloodless victories are not cheap. Moscow calculated that it would be cheaper to leave a few redeployed divisions on the Chinese border than to return them to the west.
The strategic redeployment of troops in March 1979 demonstrated to Moscow the urgent need to complete the construction of the BAM, so that no action on the part of China could interrupt the connection between Primorye and the center of Russia. The Baikal-Amur Mainline will be completed at an accelerated pace in four years, regardless of any expenses. Added to this were the considerable costs of building and maintaining fortified areas along thousands of kilometers of the PRC's borders from Kazakhstan to Primorye.
The bloodless March war with China also had far-reaching political consequences. History The Soviet war in Afghanistan is usually viewed through the prism of confrontation with the United States, completely forgetting the "Chinese front" of the Cold War. But the first request for the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan came from Kabul not by accident in March 1979. And when, in December of that year, the Politburo decided to send troops, one of the main determining factors was the Chinese one.
The Chinese Communist Party inherited from Mao still positioned itself as an alternative center of the world left movement to Moscow. Throughout the 70s, Beijing tried to actively intercept Moscow's influence on various pro-socialist leaders - this was the case from Cambodia to Angola, where various local "Marxists", oriented either towards the PRC or the USSR, fought with each other in internal wars. That is why, in 1979, Moscow seriously feared that during the outbreak of internal struggle among the "left" of Kabul, Afghan leader Amin would defect to the side of China.
For its part, in Beijing, the entry of Soviet troops into Afghanistan in December 1979 was perceived as an actual continuation of the great anti-Chinese maneuvers in March of the same year. China was seriously afraid that the Soviet operation in Afghanistan was only a preparatory stage for the annexation of Xinjiang, where the Chinese had big problems with the Uighurs. The first weapons that the Afghan mujahideen received from abroad were not American, but Chinese.
By that time, Beijing had long considered enemy No. 1 not "US imperialism", but "social-imperialism" of the USSR. Even Mao, who loved to play on world contradictions and balances, restored diplomatic relations with Washington, and Deng Xiaoping, having barely consolidated his power in Beijing, went almost to an open alliance with the United States against the USSR.
China in 1980 possessed the world's largest armed forces, then their total number, according to various estimates, reached 6 million. For military needs that year, China spent 40% of the state budget. But at the same time, the military industry of the PRC lagged significantly behind the USSR and NATO countries in terms of technology.
Therefore, Deng Xiaoping openly tried to bargain new military technologies from the West in exchange for an alliance against Moscow. The West met this desire quite favorably - China quickly received from the EEC (European Economic Community) "most economic favored nation". Prior to that, only Japan had such a privilege. These preferences enabled Deng Xiaoping to successfully launch economic reforms in China.
In January 1980, when it became known that Soviet troops had occupied Afghanistan, US Defense Secretary Harold Brown urgently arrived in Beijing to meet with the Chinese leadership. On the crest of this American-Chinese friendship against the USSR, an idea arose, which the Western media immediately dubbed "the alliance of an eagle and a dragon against a bear." In the same year, the PRC and the United States jointly boycotted the Moscow Olympics.
At that time, the United States was extremely happy about such a huge "second front" against Moscow and prepared an ambitious program for the modernization of the Chinese army so that it could oppose the armed forces of the USSR on equal terms. For this, according to the calculations of American military specialists, China needed 8 new modern tanks, 10 armored personnel carriers, 25 heavy trucks, 6 air missiles and at least 200 modern military aircraft.
Throughout the first half of the 80s, this "alliance of an eagle and a dragon against a bear" frightened Moscow extremely with the possible prospects for the technical strengthening of the six-million-strong Chinese army. That is why they completed the construction with shock and with such relief celebrated the opening of the BAM in 1984.
Capitulation in the East
By the early 80s, the USSR held against China 7 combined arms and 5 separate air armies, 11 tank and 48 motorized rifle divisions, a dozen special forces brigades and many separate units, including fortified areas on the border and even specially designed armored trains in Mongolia. 14 tanks, 900 combat aircraft and about 1125 combat helicopters were preparing to operate against China. In the event of war, this technique compensated for the numerical superiority of the Chinese. In total, the USSR held a quarter of its tanks and a third of all troops against China.
Every year, the 39th Army, simulating an offensive, carried out maneuvers, starting from the Soviet-Mongolian border and with a rapid dash across Mongolia, resting on the Chinese border, each time bringing the CPC Central Committee to an almost open diplomatic hysteria. It is no coincidence that the main and very first demand of Beijing at that time was the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Mongolia - all claims on the border were already in the second place.
Everything changed in 1989, when Gorbachev began a unilateral reduction and withdrawal of troops not only from Germany and the countries of Eastern Europe, but also from the Far Eastern borders of the USSR. The Soviet Union fulfilled all the basic requirements of Beijing - it significantly reduced its armies in the Far East, withdrew troops from Afghanistan and Mongolia, and even guaranteed the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia.
The last Soviet soldiers left Mongolia in December 1992, a year and a half earlier than East Germany. In those years, Mongolia was the only country that opposed the withdrawal of not Soviet, but Russian troops from its territory - Ulan Bator was too afraid of the Chinese.
In June 1992, the High Command of the Far East Forces was disbanded. A similar fate befell most of the military units in the region and all fortified areas on the border with China - from Khorgos, which covered Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan, which had already become independent, to Vladivostok. So the USSR lost the Cold War not only to the West, but also to the East, represented by China.
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