Saturday, October 20, 2018

A 1940 Stalinist Precedent for Putin’s ‘Little Green Men’ in Crimea

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 20 – One of the most difficult challenges the Russian authorities present to the West is the Russian government never forgets something if it worked and uses it again and again – unlike Western governments which are inclined to think that even if something works, there is always the chance to make it better by changing it in fundamental ways.

            Nowhere is this Russian tradition stronger than in the intelligence agencies where the FSB of today is using models drawn from the Soviet KGB, the Cheka and even the tsarist Okhrana. Perhaps the most obvious are Moscow’s false flag operations modelled on “Operation Trust” that Feliks Dzerzhinsky ran against the first Russian emigration in the 1920s.

            But there are many others, and now a report about one of Stalin’s more remarkable if rarely noted operations has surfaced, a report that suggests what the Soviet dictator did in China’s Xinjiang province in 1940 may very well have been a model for what Vladimir Putin did with his “little green men” in Ukraine.

            In an article for Russian 7, Dmitry Sokolov describes what he says was “a truly genial plan” to fool the Japanese army by dressing up Red Army men as anti-Bolshevik White Russians, having them address officers as “Your Excellency” rather than comrade, and fitting into life in China’s troubled West (

                According to the historian, Moscow in 1940 assumed that Japan would attack the Soviet Union at its first opportunity and that the USSR could better monitor the threat and perhaps disorder any invasion if it had forces loyal to itself behind what would be the lines in such a conflict. 

            Of course, Sokolov continues, the Soviet authorities recognized that anyone they sent there might be quickly unmasked by the Japanese intelligence services and so they came up with “a secret operation to block Japanese aggression,” one based on “conspiracy above everything else” and one that lasted for three years.

            What Moscow did was this: it sent an entire regiment of Red Army men from Belarus to Xinjiang dressed not as Soviet soldiers but rather as anti-Bolshevik White Army forces. Not only were they dressed like the Whites, but they addressed each other using tsarist terms and were “severely punished” if they slipped up and used the word “comrade.” 

                Because there were so many remnants of the White movement in China, the Soviet unit play acting as one of their number had little difficulty in fitting it.  Many of the local Chinese even welcomed them because White units had helped the Chinese put down Islamic revolts and because the Red Army men playacting as Whites displayed iron discipline.

                The Japanese never figured out just whom they were up against, and the Soviets redressed as Whites were able to remain undetected until they were withdrawn in 1943 when the possibility of a Japanese invasion appeared to have passed, Sokolov says.  The unit was then dispatched to fight against the Germans in the Soviet West.

            According to the Russian historian, “the most difficult task for the soldiers and officers [of this unit once they were withdrawn from China] was to make the transition from being White Guards and become again soldiers of the Red Army – and also to get accustomed to calling each other “comrade.” 

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