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A tradition of Russian expansion toward and along the Pacific coast of East Asia began in seventeenth century. Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War brought only a temporary check to Russian territorial ambitions in the region, but after the Bolshevik Revolution, its efforts to exert influence there took on a different dimension. Led by dedicated ideologues and agents like Michael Borodin, first the Comintern, and after it, the increasingly nationalist politicians of Stalin's Soviet Union, tried to reestablish the political hold of Soviet Communism in East Asia. They were not notably successful. Even the most able Soviet ideologues were unable to keep their ideology free from Russian nationalist self-interest. Their ideas of Marxism-Leninism were based solely on European models and did not travel well in Asia. Mao Zedong demonstrated this in China. Other Asian communists may have taken their training in Moscow, but they tended to build their version of socialism in their own way.


At the close of World War II, history handed the Soviets a great opportunity. Comfortable late starters in the Pacific War, the Soviets were able to take over Manchuria and the northern half of Korea at virtually no cost. The Soviets systematically looted Manchuria, crating up much of its Japanese-built industry for shipment to the Soviet Union. They did not readily collaborate with their Chinese communist allies. They were notably reluctant to give up Port Arthur, seized after thewar. In 1960, Nikita Khrushchev peremptorily withdrew Soviet advisors and economic support from China, precipitating a rift that nearly ended in open warfare and which has only partially healed.


Russian influence on postwar Japan was equally negative. Insistence on toeing the Moscow line strictly deprived a capably-led Japanese Communist Party of a chance to expand its base. The Soviet retention of border islands off the northern coast of Japan, along with a variety of military threats, have hardened the visceral anti-Russian feelings of the Japanese.


Why did the Soviet Union keep this negative stance for so long in its Asia-Pacific relations? Partly, it is historical memory. From the outset of World War II, the Soviets knew that had the Japanese elected to launch an offensive against them from the east, it wouldhave been fatal to their struggle with the Germans in the west. Hence, we must approach the Soviet Fai East horn the standpoint of a nation that long has viewed it as a distant, vulnerable eastern flank. Well into the 1980s, Soviet policy in the Pacific seemed to be based on military threat alone, with none of the relatively subtle political and economic overtures that characterized Soviet policies toward NATO countries.


Considering the possibilities, and opportunities offered, the net gain for the Soviets after more that a century as a Pacific power would have to be reckoned as a minus quantity. Mikhail Gorbachev's speech in Vladivostok in 1986 may have signaled a turnaround in the traditional Soviet stance towards its Asian neighbors, but the turmoil inside the Soviet Union, combined with years of inept and inadequate construction of a Far Eastern infrastructure, continued to limit the Soviet, then Russian, capacity to become a significant economic player in Asia.




After reading Chapter 12, you should have a basic understanding of the following concepts:


1.  The Soviet Far East has considerable but underdeveloped natural resources. 

2.  The Soviet Far East has a long history of independence from the center of Russia/ the Soviet Union.

3.  The regionalist tendencies of the Soviet Far East reflect the kind of fragmentation taking place elsewhere in the Soviet Union, but are unlikely to divide the Russian republic.     

4.  There is a long history of territorial conflict in the Northern Pacific region, as represented today by border conflicts with China and Japan.







Amur River

Bering Straits 

Far Eastern Republic




Lake Baikal

Maritime Region

Northern Territories


Russian Far East








1.       Describe the factors that have hindered Soviet development of a Pacific-Asian presence. How has the Soviet state tried to overcome these barriers? Which of these barriers are inherent and impossible to surmount?

2.       What was the PER? Delineate its boundaries. Why was it created? Characterize relations between the PER and Moscow. What happened to the PER? Why?

3.       Describe pre-Cold War relations between the US and Russia/the USSR. How have relations changed? What caused these changes?

4.       Where are the Northern Territories? What are they? What is their significance to Pacific relations?

5.       Compare and contrast US and Russian/Soviet development of their respective Pacific interests.

6.       What role did the Soviet Far East play in the Russian Civil War (1918-1922)? What Pacific powers participated in this war? What role did those powers have?

7.       What errors did the Soviets make in their relations with their Asian neighbors?  What effect have these blunders had on international relations?

8.       What are Russian views of the historical relationship between Russia/USSR and Japan? What are the Japanese views? How has this relationship affected the Asia-Pacific region?

9.       Many voices in the Russian Far East call for the reestablishment of an independent Far Eastern Republic. How viable would such a state be? How does this clash with Russian prerogatives in the Soviet Far East?

10.    Characterize  Russo-Japanese  relations before WWII.  What happened in the course of the war to dramatically alter the path of Russo-Japanese relations? What are the repercussions of this postwar shift in mutual attitudes?




Amur River. Called Heilongjiang in Mandarin Chinese, this river forms part of the eastern boundary between the Soviet Union and the PRC. There have been several border conflicts between the USSR and PRC over the Amur River. 


Bering Strait. The Bering Strait divides Alaska and the (Soviet) Chukotskiy peninsula; it also connects the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea. 


Kurile Islands: An are of islands stretching from Hokkaido to Kamchatka. The Kuriles mark the boundary between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean. Also spelled Kuril. Legitimate possession of the southernmost Kuriles is disputed by Japan and the Soviet Union.


Northern Territories: Translation of the Japanese term for the formerly Japanese islands seized by the Soviet Union at the end of WWII.  Although Japan once controlled the entire Kurile chain and the southern half of Sakhalin, the Japanese government presently claims only Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai group. As the Soviets have not returned the islands, the Japanese refuse to sign a treaty formally ending WW II. 


Sakhalin: An island in the Sea of Okhotsk. Japan won the southern half of Sakhalin as spoils of the Russo-Japanese War (see Chapter 3). The Soviets recaptured southern Sakhalin in the final days of WWII.

Ural Mountains: A mountain range in the Soviet Union, the Urals mark the traditional boundary between Asia and Europe.


Ussuri River. A river which runs from Khabarovsk to Lake Khanka, it forms part of the easternmost boundary between the PRC and the USSR.   Apparatchik: Russian for "bureaucrat." Apparatchiki serve in the Soviet and communist bureaucracy.


Lake Baikal: A vast lake north of Mongolia in the southeastern part of the Soviet Union. It is the deepest non-oceanic body of water on Earth, and contains about one-fifth of the fresh water on the surface of the Earth

Bolshevik: From Russian for "majority." A term created by Lenin for his (minority) faction of Social Democrats. This faction was tightly organized along military lines, and led by a vanguard of elite intellectuals favoring violent social revolution.


Cossack: Slavic peasant warriors known for their horsemanship. Cossacks fought against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War.


Glasnost: Russian for "openness." Refers to greater freedoms in the USSR as a result of the reforms instituted by Mikhail Gorbachev.


October Revolution: The Russian communist revolution of October 1917. This revolution superseded the moderate, republican revolution of February 1917. The ensuing Russian Civil War lasted from 1918 to 1922.


Perestroika: Russian for "restructuring." Refers to economic and political reforms instituted by Mikhail Gorbachev.  


Red Russian: A term for the Bolshevik military forces; so named for the red star they wore. The Soviet Army developed from these troops. 


White Russian: Originally Czarist loyalists. White Russian came to refer to all Russians who fought against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War.



Siberian Salient:

Russia in Pacific Asia

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