Latynina on Russia’s China Problem

Given that Russia expelled Solzhenitsyn and chucked Dostoevsky into a concentration camp, while lionizing mass murder Joseph Stalin and electing Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, as its president, it’s pretty clear that the country has a good bit of difficulty telling friend from foe.  Writing in the Moscow Times hero journalist Yulia Latynina shows that the problem carries over into foreign policy as well.

President Dmitry Medvedev has proposed that Europe reform its system of collective security. The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe trashed the idea, voting 55-1 against it. Why? Because an odd suggestion was hidden behind the phrase “reform the system of collective security” — namely that NATO be prohibited from expanding its membership, European countries lose their right to deploy U.S. missiles on their territory, but Russia be allowed to do whatever it wants. After the Georgia war, the proposal sounded especially unconvincing.

Russia has two major problems: China and the Caucasus.

The problem with China is that, in the Russian Far East, people are living in the 21st century on the Chinese side of the Amur River, while on the Russian side they are still stuck in the 19th century. On the Chinese side is the prosperous boom town of Heihe. On this side is the dilapidated and run-down city of Blagoveschensk. Russia ships train cars filled with raw timber and oil south into China, while on the opposite tracks, trains bring in manufactured goods and laborers from China.

In contrast to the United States, China has territorial claims on Russia. And in contrast to our officials, the Chinese think in terms of millenniums, not dollars. But we do not discuss our “China problem” at all because Russia’s government is in about the same condition as those buildings in Blagoveschensk — and that makes it too frightening to even bring up the subject. It is easier to discuss problems that don’t really exist, such as the issue of collective security in Europe.

Russia’s second big problem is the Caucasus. In reality, the Caucasus was never really integrated into Russia — not in tsarist times, not during Soviet times, not now — and that’s great. Any empire, if it wants to be considered a true empire, needs to have a variety of cultures with varying degrees of development and a marked difference between the regions and the central metropolis — which remains a metropolis because it gives more to the provinces than it takes from them.

In Russia, that relationship has been seriously compromised. Moscow police treat people from the Caucasus as second-rate citizens. Moscow takes everything from the people of the Caucasus — their honor, their dignity, and their right to feel as though they are citizens of a great empire. Moscow feels justified in using a tank to level an apartment building in Makhachkala. But imagine what would happen if troops used a tank to demolish an apartment building in Moscow just because a suspected criminal was living in one of the apartments? And Moscow has no problem with “cleansing” an entire Ingush village, thus labeling — and making — every inhabitant an accomplice to suspected insurgents. The only thing the Kremlin gives the regions in return is money, and this is done in the belief that any fire can be extinguished by pouring enough dollars on it and that the insurgents will remain marginalized as long as the powerful leaders in the Caucasus continue shooting one another in their squabble for federal funds. This strategy has worked out fine as the money kept flowing. But now Russia is running out of cash, and what will happen with the Caucasus as a result?

Of course, it would be wrong to say that Russia completely ignores the Caucasus problem. It is discussed. For example, two months ago Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Shamanov said the situation in the Caucasus was serious and would remain so because of the then-approaching presidential elections in the United States. Let’s just say that his comment fell a little short of being a complete analysis of the situation.

Russia’s foreign policy is very simple. Moscow does not address the problems that actually exist. It takes on the really nettlesome problems that don’t exist. It won’t discuss what’s happening in the Caucasus, but it is more than willing to defend the interests of 30,000 Russian citizens in South Ossetia. Fine. But what will we do when the Chinese government decides that it wants to defend the interests of the several million Chinese citizens living in the sparsely populated Russian Far East?

13 responses to “Latynina on Russia’s China Problem

  1. Hi, IMO China is a threat to no-one. China has been a peaceful country along its history. I don’t understand the point of view of Laynina about Caucasus, does she support the yihadist terrorism? Maybe, she is muslim?

    Best wishes

  2. Go ask the Tibetans and the South Koreans if China is just another peaceful country.

    And then there was this little incident.

    Damansky Island, known to the Chinese as Zhen Bao, is an uninhabited stretch of land, about 1 1/2 miles long by a half-mile wide. It sits in the Ussuri River, the border between northeastern China and Russia’s Siberian Far East. It would be an unremarkable geographic feature in a remote, heavily forested landscape — if it hadn’t been the center of a remarkable mini-war three decades ago between rival communist powers.

    Between March and September of 1969, long-simmering tensions between China and the Soviet Union boiled over into a series of violent border clashes — incidents that threatened to spark widespread conventional, or even nuclear, war.

    The conflict had roots going back centuries. Czarist Russia and imperial China had rival claims over border territories in that region dating back to the 1600s. In 1860, Russia imposed an agreement on China’s waning Ch’ing dynasty that roughly set up the current common border.

    In 1951, two years after the communist victory in China’s civil war, Beijing signed an agreement with Moscow — accepting China’s existing border with the U.S.S.R., as well as armed Soviet control over the Ussuri and Amur border rivers.

    But the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s — an ideological fallout between communism’s two vanguard nations — radically changed relations between the two communist neighbors. The Cultural Revolution in China in the mid-1960s, a power struggle unleashed by Mao against the government bureaucracy, created great internal instability. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 also increased Chinese suspicions of Moscow’s intentions.

    It was during this time that the ongoing ideological dispute between China and the Soviet Union became territorial — as Beijing declared its northeastern border with the U.S.S.R. was the result of “unequal” agreements made a century earlier.

    There had been a series of incidents along the Ussuri River, involving clashes between Soviet and Chinese groups — in some cases, Soviet river patrols and Chinese fishermen, or Soviet border guards and Chinese demonstrators — dating back to the mid-1960s. But these clashes had been, for the most part, unarmed. That all changed in March 1969.

    Christian Ostermann, of the Cold War International History Project, recently uncovered a report, sent to East Germany’s leadership, in which the Soviet Union describes its version of the first deadly border clash, which took place on Damansky, or Zhen Bao, Island on March 2, 1969:

    “Our observation posts noted the advance of 30 armed Chinese military men on the island of Damansky. Consequently, a group of Soviet border guards was dispatched to the location where the Chinese had violated the border. The officer in charge of the unit and a small contingent approached the border violators with the intention of registering protests and demanding (without using force) that they leave Soviet territory, as had been done repeatedly in the past. But within the first minutes of the exchange, our border guards came under crossfire and were insidiously shot without any warning. At the same time, fire on the remaining parts of our force was opened from an ambush on the island and from the Chinese shore.”

    Chinese reports of the time, meanwhile, condemned the Soviets for carrying out “blatant provocation” against Beijing’s border guards.

    Several dozen people were killed during the March 2 incident. But a second, much more serious clash took place on the same island 13 days later.

    According to Chen Jian, associate professor of history at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and author of “China’s Road to the Korean War”, the Soviet side was more prepared for the March 15 incident.

    “Concerning the March 2 incident, the Chinese side mobilized several hundred soldiers, but only several dozens were involved in the fighting on Zhen Bao Island — which lasted from 8:40 to 9:40 p.m.”, says Chen. “According to Chinese sources, the Soviet side sent in about 70 soldiers, assisted by two armored vehicles and two other automobiles.

    “The fight on March 15 lasted from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Both sides concentrated at least several thousand troops around the Zhen Bao island area. Directly involved in the fighting on Zhen Bao Island were more than 200 Soviet soldiers, who were assisted by about 25 tanks and 35 armored vehicles. The Chinese side put in around 300-500 soldiers. From 1:35 to 3:30 p.m., the Soviet side used long-range artillery to support its troops.”

    Chen adds that, according to Chinese sources, the two battles for Damansky/Zhen Bao Island resulted in a total of 250 Soviet casualties and more than 100 Chinese casualties. Beijing also claimed to have destroyed 17 Soviet tanks and armored vehicles during the fighting.

    Other incidents took place several months later, thousands of miles to the west, along the border between China’s northwestern Xinjiang province and what was then the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

    Diplomatic attempts to end the violence were, at first, thwarted by ideological fervor. In March 1969, following the two Ussuri River incidents, an attempt by Soviet leaders to establish contact with their Chinese counterparts was broken off — after operators in Beijing refused to put the Soviets through.

    “The operators refused, calling the Soviets ‘revisionists,'” says Chen Jian. “When (Chinese Premier) Chou En-lai learned of this, he said to them, ‘How can you do this?'”

    In the meantime, both nations prepared for war. China began a program to build massive, underground complexes for protection against a Soviet nuclear attack. For their part, Kremlin leaders were building up their conventional forces in the Soviet Far East — to 27 divisions by 1969, and nearly twice that number by the mid-1970s. Several Soviet divisions also were deployed in Mongolia — which had signed a friendship treaty with Moscow.

    Publicly, Washington did not take sides in the crisis. But in a U.S. State Department “intelligence note” dated June 13, 1969, analysts wondered if China had more to gain from the cross-border tensions than did Moscow.

    “Chinese propaganda has emphasized the need for internal unity and urged the populace to prepare for war,” the intelligence note states. “It is tempting to suggest that the incidents have been engineered solely as a cement for internal politics.”

    By September 1969, diplomacy finally prevailed. Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin, who had attended the funeral of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, stopped in Beijing on his way home to Moscow. Kosygin was met at Beijing airport by Chou En-lai, and after a meeting that lasted nearly four hours, the two men worked out an agreement that ended the border clashes and reduced tensions between their countries.

    Many analysts say the immediate winner of the Chinese-Soviet border clashes was the United States. Suspicious of Soviet intentions, China decided it was strategically wise to improve relations with Washington. Soviet leaders, meanwhile, decided to relax Cold War tensions — which led to the policy of detente in the 1970s.

    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and the other former Soviet republics that border China have worked to bury the old border disputes. In April 1997, at a ceremony at the Kremlin, representatives from Russia, China, Kazakstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement limiting the number of troops along their collective borders.

  3. Pablo, sadly, you missed Latynina’s point. She does not imply that China is about to attack Russia. Nor does she support terrorism; jihadi or other. In fact, she draws a lot of parallels between South Osetia and Gaza – both failed states that live on (and get corrupted by) foreign aid and need to have an external enemy (Georgia / Israel) that is much more developed, civilized and peace-seeking.

    The China and Caucasus problems that she writes about is the fact that Russia does not control vast swaths of Russian territory. South Siberia is controlled by Chinese businesses, and Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other North Caucasus regions are controlled by local thugs.

    Those businessmen and thugs are playing metropolitan government like a fiddle while they (Kremlin) create problems where one doesn’t exist; namely the relationship with the West.

    Kolchak’s historical reference, while correct, existed in a different context and not immediately applicable to Sino-Russian relationship. Although, there are obvious parallels between Russian defense of its newly-minted “citizens” in South Ossetia and the potential of Chinese defense of its citizens in the disputed territories. As Latynina points out – China thinks in millenniums!

    The original (Russian) article points numerous example of Chinese “soft invasion” into Siberia. The invasion of paved roads and functioning power stations; clean grocery stores and educated engineers.

  4. Kolchak, you can’t change the history. Border incidents are common all over the world, but the only warmongering and imperialist asian power has been Japan, not China.

    Best wishes


    Pablo the Babblo; Chinese people are, perhaps, peaceful. Their repulsive, barbaric regime that has murdered some seventy million, certainly is not. As to the Islamic radicalisation of the Caucasus, it is the glorious result of the seventy years (in fact it will be ninety years now) of the Soviet destructive, barbaric interferrence into the matters of that particular region…

  6. Hi,
    Felix what i can’t undestand, and unfortunately it’s very common in the spanish and other western media, is to be intrasigent with the yihadist terrorism when attacks Spain, USA or the UK and comprehensive when attacks Russia or China. IMO yihadism is a menace for all the world, not only for us, and terrorist must be fighted by all means.
    When I read the article i had the impression that Laynina get on well with yihadism when Russia is the attacked country, so I asked if she was muslim.

    Best wishes, Felix

    Bogdan of Enuchalia, if Babblo is an insult I am calling for an excuse. Pablo is the spanish name for Saint Paul, one of the earlier saints of the Catholic Church, not a word to joke.

  7. Chinese peaceful? The Chinese have only been “peaceful” in the substantial periods of time when they have been under foreign domination – a group in which I guess it would be appropriate to include the Manchus, who last ruled China before the Communists between 1644 – 1912. It was under the Manchus that China grew to its largest modern extent. Of course under the Communists China conquered Tibet and maintains puppet states in North Korea and its own version of the Russian “near abroad.” There is no doubt Japan was a very aggressive imperial power from 1895 – 1945, but China has only been peaceful because it has so often been the target of northern steppe peoples who have consistently overwhelmed the sedantary Chinese governments ruling from Nanjing or Beijing. But what happened under the Ming? Expansion. Under the Communists? Expansion. The uncomfortable fact of Chinese political history is that it was more often under foreign domination than not. Impotence does not mean peace, however.

  8. First, I don’t have the knowledge or opinion of Chinese peacefulness in broad historical context. Kolchak, dan and Pablo can duke it out – don’t try to convince me one way or another.

    Latynina’s article has very little to do with that either. Yes, she mentions that China thinks in millenniums – but the main point of the article is Russia. Russia creates problems and solves non-existent problems while ignoring real problems.

    As far as getting on well with jihadism – no, Latynina is quite clear in her attitude as well. It may not be clear from this article because the topic was Russia, not specifically Caucasus. But in many other articles she provides probably the deepest and most thoughtful analysis on Russian-muslim relationship that you can find.

  9. I think Pablo is naive into thinking like General MacArthur that the Chinese are peaceful and would never attack. Did he learn his lesson.

    So Latynina is right in saying that the Russians need to be concerned about their Sino Border. If provoked, the gentle Chinese tiger can become quite fierce.

  10. Felix – I completely agree with your opinions.

    Pablo – You as the rest of Spain, need to learn more about Russia. It is a great country, with great culture. But it always had tyrannic rulers and the Kremlin itself is the source of 90+% of Russia’s problems.

    As for China. Yes people are peaceful, but their government is not. Their military jets fly over Japan and violate their air space. I understand the history between two countries, but it’s the XXI century.

    As for Latinina – Yes she is among the very very few. As is Oleg Panfilov.

  11. China is one of Latynina’s obsessions. If she were American, she’d write about the dangers of Mexican claims against Texas. I don’t get why Western opponents of Putin are so positive on a blatant racist like Latynina.


    Maybe it’s because she isn’t a racist. You haven’t quoted a single word she’s written that is racist. Writing about China’s annexation of Siberia isn’t racism, it’s fact reporting and soon to be history. You obviously know nothing about the demographics of the region, or else you are a Putin henchman seeking to cover up your boss’s total policy failure.

    Or it could be because she’s courageous enough to continue attacking the Kremlin in print and on the airwaves in exactly the manner that got Anna Politkovskaya killed.

    The Kremlin took the same attitude to Solzhenitisyn and Dostoevsky and Pushkin. In fact, it routinely liquidates true patriots and elevates real enemies to positions of power, like Putin and Stalin, from whence they wreck havoc upon the nation.

  12. Pingback: Myth of the Yellow Peril | Sublime Oblivion

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