Russia and DPRK at the beginning

From the Korea Times:
Andrei Lankov

First Embassy

The Cold War propaganda in the West, and particularly in South Korea, used to present North Korea as a puppet regime, completely dependent on Moscow. This propaganda image was patently wrong in the 1950s, let alone 1960s.

However, in the early stages of its history, before the Korean War, North Korea indeed could be described as a Soviet dependency.

The first speech of Kim Ilsung, delivered in October 1945 at a mass rally in Pyongyang, was written in the Soviet Army headquarters and then translated into Korean by a Soviet officer.

All major political pronouncements and most of the important speeches of the North Korean dignitaries were initially given to Soviet supervisors for editing and approval.

In the North Korean armed forces, all appointments above battalion commander had to be cleared with the Soviets. And all major political events had to be discussed with the Soviets beforehand.

The major task the Soviets strove to achieve in the late 1940s can be described as the ‘communization of Korea.’ They wanted a stable and efficient local regime that would become a reliable junior partner for Moscow in the region.

This policy was implemented by a remarkable group of people who came to Korea from Stalin’s USSR and stood for everything that was good and bad in the Soviet bureaucracy of the era. They were brutal, efficient, determined, ruthless, and intelligent. They belonged to the same cast of cadres who transformed a backward agrarian Russia into a superpower (and killed millions in the process).

The major role in Soviet diplomacy of the pre-war era belonged to Colonel General Terentii Shtykov, a member of the Military Council (political commissar) of the First Far Eastern front. In fact, in 1945- 48, he was the supreme ruler of North Korea, the principal supervisor of both the Soviet military and the local authorities.

General Shtykov was a party functionary rather than a military officer. He was a farmerturned- worker who came to Leningrad in the 1920s, was recruited to the Communist Party and made a remarkable career in Stalin’s Russia. By 1945, Shtykov held the rank of Colonel General, then the highest possible for a political commissar (besides him, only three political officers had the same rank in the entire Soviet Army).

He was an autodidact: a poor farmer’s son and had only attended primary school, but few people could guess that the general had almost no formal education.

In 1948, when the Soviet troops were withdrawn from Korea and the newly established DPRK was recognized by Moscow, it was only logical that Shtykov became the first Soviet ambassador to Pyongyang.

In this position, Shtykov was assisted by a remarkable group of people, mostly in their 40s and 50s. Colonel Ingnatiev supervised the development of the North Korean bureaucracy and arranged the foundation of the Korean Workers Party in 1946.

He was also an early champion of Kim Il-sung, whose rise to the political heights would never have happened without Colonel Ignatiev’s support.

Another part of the Soviet bureaucracy in the North was known as the ‘office of the political adviser.’ This nebulous name was used by the local office of the MGB (the KGB’s predecessor), run by the enigmatic and efficient Armenian, Colonel Balasanov. Balasanov was an intelligence operative specializing in East Asia. His agents were responsible for a range of clandestine activities in the North and South, as well as for supporting the South Korean Communist insurgency that began in 1947 and was secretly supplied from the North (and, of course, from the USSR).

One also has to mention the brilliant Dr. Tunkin, an expert on international law, who was responsible for negotiating with the Americans (or breaking the negotiations off: as every diplomat knows, sometimes the ability to not achieve anything is as important as the ability to achieve something).

In the late 1940s, Ambassador Shtykov became a supporter of Kim Il-sung’s plan to invade the South. Both Shtykov and Kim spent a long time lobbying Moscow for permission to attack, and assuring Stalin that victory would be swift, cheap, and easy. It was not.

The ill-advised invasion of the South seriously damaged Shtykov’s career. He was recalled to the USSR and appointed to an insignificant post (when we recall the situation those days, he should consider himself lucky to have stayed alive). Other people left, too: after all, in the post-1953 period Korea stabilized and lost much of its strategic importance.

Dr. Tunkin embarked on successful academic career that would eventually grant him a place in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Col. Ignatiev was killed in an American air raid.

In the early 1950s, these ‘old Korean hands’ were replaced by a new crop of diplomats who were, frankly, of much inferior quality.


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