From the article by: Vladimir Voronov
After Crimea was annexed and the war in the Donbas unleashed, a lot has been said about the Kremlin’s so-called “hybrid war.” A war that, according to the theoreticians, combines elements of “regular” military actions with reconnaissance and subversive operations carried out by subdivisions combined with all-out information and cyber war. The same theoreticians and analysts claim that this is a completely new form of warfare.
However, there is nothing new in “hybrid warfare.” The strategy was practiced long before Putin’s “little green men” appeared in Crimea or in the Donbas. Although such designation as hybrid warfare did not exist, in secret documents, this kind of strategy was called “active reconnaissance.” It was a partisan activity staged as an insurgency and later the people’s liberation war or a revolution of national independence.
“It will be generally well understood that we are against war with China; the Red Army is merely guarding our borders and has no intention of crossing into Chinese territory, but if within Manchuria a revolution is found to be brewing, then everything will be fully explicable.” Josef Stalin
On October 7, 1929, Stalin, who had come to Sochi for his well-deserved multi-month vacation, sent a message to his stand-in in Moscow, Molotov (then a member of the Politburo and the Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik):
“China will be problematic for us. It seems to me it is time for us to switch to organizing a movement for revolution in Manchuria. Sending special operations groups into Manchuria to execute special missions intermittently is basically a good idea but that’s not what we need. Now is the time to escalate our strategy. We should organize two regiments of brigades consisting mainly of Chinese men, supply them with everything that is required (artillery, machine guns, etc.) place Chinese men at the head of the brigades and send them off to Manchuria with an assignment: to foment a rebellion within the Manchurian army, befriend and take under our wing reliable soldiers from those armies (dismissing the army itself after getting rid of the commanding officers), return to the division, occupy Harbin and, upon gaining power, pronounce Zhang Zuolin [son of Chairman Zhang Tzolin, ruler of Manchuria in the years 1928-1931 – author’s note] deposed, and finally establish revolutionary control (conduct pogroms on the landowners, win over the Christians, set up a command regime in cities, towns and villages, etc.).That is absolutely necessary. We can, and I think, should do it. This is not in violation of any “international laws.” Everyone will understand that we are against war with China, the Red Army is merely guarding our borders and has no intention of crossing over into Chinese territory but in the event that a revolution is brewing in Manchuria it will be seen as a natural progression considering what life was like under Zhang Zuolin’s regime. Think about it. This is important.” (J.V Stalin’s Letters to V.M. Molotov. 1925-1936. Collection of Documents. M., Rossiya Molodaya, 1995, pp. 167-168.)
A bit of background history. The Chinese Eastern Railway (CER) was a bone of contention between Russia and China then. The story of the conflict surrounding the railway differs radically depending on the source: Soviet historians and contemporary historians who study Russian fiscal proceedings maintained and still maintain today that the Chinese military was to blame for rushing to take over the administration of the CER from the USSR.
Meanwhile, the Chinese contend that it was precisely the USSR that introduced conflict into the situation by consistently breaking the terms of the agreement that had been reached in 1924 about joint administration. Moreover, the railway was unprofitable; it was a deeply debt-ridden enterprise. For the ruler of Manchuria, Chairman Zhang Zuolin, the CER was a strategic conduit, and he was not about to pay for the use of the rail to transfer troops, nor could he.
The Chinese military threatened to impose executions on members of the Soviet administration for its efforts to block the transfer of echelons of armed soldiers without tickets. Afterward, Zhang Zuolin devoted all his efforts to methodically taking over the conduit. It became painfully obvious that they could not sustain the route, the route would never be profitable under Soviet administration, plus in enemy territory, its strategic importance would, for all purposes, be zero.
Back in 1926 in Moscow, a few clear-headed “party comrades” expressed an opinion that “we ought to straighten out the situation with the CER as quickly as possible, get rid of it like a callous on our foot.” (Stalin’s Letters to Molotov…p.77.) However, as was loudly proclaimed at the July (1926) plenum of the Central Committee, the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) by an ardent member of the Politburo, Nikolai Bukharin, “we have a problem with the CER, with the rail line, which is a principal strategic line and is our finger of revolution that has been stuck into China.” [Ibid.]
Insofar as the Soviets had absolutely no desire to pull their “revolutionary finger” out of China, Moscow tried to solve the problem Stalin-style: getting rid of the problem by getting rid of the person.
On June 4, 1928, the train car in which Zhang Zuolin was traveling exploded near Mukden. A mine had been set up in a viaduct. Shortly thereafter, the gravely wounded Chairman died in a Mukden hospital. Even though the Japanese were immediately blamed for the assassination attempt, today it is known that the assassination was executed by a resident INO OGPU agent [a foreign division of the Soviet secret service] in Harbin, Naum Eitington, and a resident agent at the foreign division administration (reconnaissance department) RCCA headquarters, Christopher Salnin.
That did not solve the problem, though, because Zhang Zuolin, the son of the assassinated Zhang Tzolin, refused to listen to the “convincing” arguments of the Kremlin. This was an example of organized “rebel acts” in action, introduced by Stalin. In the end, of course, it was decided to use direct force: at the boundary, artillery forces, the cavalry, and the infantry were deployed.
On 12 October 1929, groups of special forces created by the Special Far East Army specifically for that campaign attacked and conquered the city of Lakhasusu (Tuntsian) in Khuiluntzian province and demolished half the fleet of the Chinese Sunhari flotilla. On 30 October 1929, the ships of the Soviet Far East Navy flotilla deployed troops at the Sunhari estuary. They finished off the rest of the Sunhari flotilla while two Soviet land regiments conquered the city of Futzin.
A simultaneous incursion across the Soviet-Chinese border was carried out by Soviet troops into Prymorie, not far from the city of Mishanfu. They massacred the Chinese soldiers, concluded a new agreement regarding the CER, and formally established a joint administration. Soon the “revolutionary finger” had to come out of China, though, because the Japanese conquered and subsequently occupied Manchuria.
“Lots of noise but no explosion”
At first, the fervor those red subversives operating in the Far East possessed lived on despite the failed operation, that is, until they were caught in the act. On 7 July 1932, the Consul at the Japanese Embassy in Moscow handed the NARKOMAT [People’s Commissariat] of foreign affairs of the USSR a note from the Japanese government in which the following was said: a Korean named Lee, who was arrested by Japanese authorities gave testimony that together with three other Koreans he had been recruited by the OGPU [Soviet secret service], supplied with explosives and dropped into Manchuria with a mission to detonate a series of bridges.
According to the self-criticizing information given in Moscow by Terenti Derybas, supervisor of the official delegation of the OGPU responsible for the Far East, the operation he had organized had failed: “we made lots of noise, but the bridge did not explode.” (Lubianka. Stalin and the VChC-GPU-OGPU-NKVD. Stalin Archives. Documents of senior party and government organs. January 1922-December 1936. M., International Fund “Democracy,” 2003, p. 807.) Moreover, the agents who were supposed to detonate the bridge were caught, and they admitted to everything.
Stalin, who was again vacationing in the south and already had information about the scandalous fiasco of the Chekists [agents of the “old” secret police] even before he received the official Japanese “advertisement,” wrote to his stand-in in Moscow, member of the Politburo and Secretary of the Central Committee, Kaganovich:
“The criminal violation of a directive authorized by the Central Committee is not to be disregarded without giving it due attention as regards the inadmissibility of acts of sabotage perpetrated by the OGPU and Razvedupr [Reconnaissance Management] in Manchuria. The arrest of Korean explosives experts and the participation of our agents in that operation creates (can create) a new danger if those provocations will be put to use in the conflict with Japan. Who needs that, if not the enemies of the Soviet authorities? It is essential to summon the supervisors of the Far East department to explain the situation and punish, according to standard procedure, those who have violated the interests of the USSR. No more enduring such abomination! Talk with Molotov and apply draconian measures against those criminals in the OGPU and the Razvedupra (there is a great likelihood that those men are enemy agents among us). Demonstrate that in Moscow, there is still the rule of law, and criminals are punished severely. Greetings! J. Stalin” (Stalin and Kaganovich. Correspondence. 1931-1936. M., ROSSPEN, 2001, p.208.)
On 2 July, 1932, Kaganovich informed his chief that he had cleared up the situation with the Korean subversives and that Stalin had been proven right: “regretfully, it was the OGPU (the old holdovers). In case Hirota (he has instructions) has any questions we have instructed Karakhan how to handle the questions.” (Ibid., p.212) (Hirota Koki served as ambassador to the USSR 1928-32; Lev Karakhan was deputy people’s commissar in foreign affairs).
At the same time, Kaganovich informed Stalin that “days ago some kind of representative of the Chinese People’s Army appeared at our boundary post with a letter for Bliukher (Vasili Bliukher was commander of Special Red Flag Far East Forces –Ed.) regarding weapons, etc. We gave instructions to immediately send him back and forbid access to our boundary post for similar representatives, no matter if they are undercover provocateurs or are innocently performing the role of provocateurs.” (Ibid.)
Consider the following: this means that similar advances into “the war market” were completely routine and common for Bliukher. Except that, after the failed mission, it was necessary to take a strategic pause to discontinue the “war market” for review and assessment.
On 16 July 1932, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) reviewed the “DVK Problem” and resolved to “focus the attention of the OGPU on the fact that the planning of the mission was unsatisfactory; the people who were selected for the mission had not been properly checked” therefore “make it plain to comrade Derybas that he had failed at according to the extremely important mission the required attention, especially in the selection and thorough examination of the personnel.”
An order was issued that “the party responsible for the poor organization of the mission,” chief of the Vladivostok GPU Operations Section, Nikolai Zagvozdin, must be promptly and severely reprimanded and “comrade Zagvozdin recalled from Vladivostok.” The GPU was ordered, “to strengthen the cadres of the war operations sector.” (Lubianka…, p.315.)
Of course, any participation of Soviet security forces in terrorist acts was to be denied. The Deputy People’s Commissar of foreign affairs, Lev Karakhan, summoned the Japanese ambassador and told him that “all the testimony provided by the Korean, Lee, has turned out to be, from beginning to end, an angry and provocative fabrication. Neither the Vladivostok GPU nor any other Soviet institution in Vladivostok issued or could have issued such instructions as Lee-Khak-Un described either to Lee himself or to any other persons like Lee-Hak-Un.” (Stalin and Kaganovich…., p.277.)
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