How Stalin, a master of deception, defeated western and Japanese imperialists by stoking Chinese nationalism

The United States remained mute regarding the Holodomor and Great Terror of 1937-38. Roosevelt could not openly confront Stalin lest he severed the alliance with Japan.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Before the Second World War, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was far more effective in implementing his geopolitical agenda in Asia than in Europe. The rationale is obvious. He played a far more limited political game in Europe than in Asia. The focus of world politics was more or less on Europe, and the United States became isolated. At the same time, Asia remained a colonial continent where all kinds of political intrigues could be conducted without the supervision of the international political community.

China, an enormous nation, became the focal point of Stalin’s geopolitical agenda. All Western imperialist powers and Japan endeavoured to partition this vast country into their domains of influence and colonies and engaged in ceaseless political manoeuvring against one another. Even the isolationist United States functioned as a “normal” imperialist nation in China. The majority of these nations have supported extraterritorial law in China. In addition, China was horribly divided by the military and regional political leaders; therefore, for Stalin, this country resembled a political game paradise against the imperialists.

Stalin was interested in the three largest imperialist powers: the United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States. His strategy was to expel all imperialist nations from China via Chinese nationalism, which he fostered, and by exploiting the divisions between imperialist countries. In the 1920s, the United Kingdom was the Kremlin’s most formidable adversary. Stalin was able to limit Great Britain’s interests in China by employing the Chinese anti-colonial movement – both nationalist and communist – and the Japanese imperialists, who viewed the United Kingdom as a Western usurper of Great Britain’s “natural” interests in Asia. In the 1930s, Stalin attempted to use the United States against Japan. Even though only some people choose to recall this obscure history of Soviet-American cooperation against Japan, he was a tremendous success in this endeavour. 

The United States remained mute regarding the Holodomor and the Great Terror of 1937-1938. When the Soviet Union, in violation of the non-aggression treaties with Poland and Finland, destroyed the former — in conjunction with Hitler — and attacked the latter, Franklin D. Roosevelt found himself politically hamstrung due to his foolish reliance on Stalin as a dependable political friend. The most significant cause of his paralysis was not in Europe but in Asia: shared interests in China united the United States and the Soviet Union against Japanese imperialism; thus, Roosevelt could not openly confront Stalin lest he severed the alliance. In 1941, Stalin led Japan to conflict with the United States over China. And he was highly successful in this regard. 

Master of deception

Stalin was a master of deception, sabotage, and concealment. His covert actions in China were so carefully camouflaged that little is known about them even today. A rival of Chiang Kai-shek in the struggle for leadership in China, Zhang Zuolin was assassinated by Moscow in 1928; Moscow fabricated and let China publish a sort of Soviet version of the Tsarist fake “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – the infamous “Tanaka Memorandum” in 1929; it prompted Japan to occupy Manchuria in 1931 to destroy Japanese imperialist aspirations with Chinese forces on the ground. Similarly, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Moscow was responsible for the military incident near the Konstantinovsky Islands in 1937 (border conflict involving Soviet border guards, also known as the ” Annunciation Incident ” – Ed), the Khasan battles in 1938, and the Khalkhin Gol battles in 1939.

Between 1928 and 1945, Japan was ruled by an aggressive junta responsible for most of what occurred in Asia. This explains why the conventional view, i.e., the Soviet version, is so persistent and convincing. The rhetoric of the Japanese military concerning the Soviet Union was highly belligerent, although there were few actual acts of aggression against the Soviet Union. True, the Japanese junta fiercely opposed communism, but for the Soviet Union in relation to its enemies – Great Britain and the USA.  The anti-Soviet rhetoric was “window dressing” to appease radical right-wing circles strongly opposed to communism and the USSR.  The Japanese military worked diligently behind the scenes to forge a common front with Stalin against Great Britain and the United States. Britain viewed the Soviet Union and Japan as “proletarian” and “Asian” nations. Stalin delighted the Japanese military by regularly claiming in private discussions that he, too, was “Asian.” In the spring of 1941, Moscow and Tokyo finally inked a neutrality deal. By the middle of the 1930s, Moscow was sure that Japan was no longer a significant military threat to the Soviet Union. Tokyo may not have caused every bloody event in Asia during the interwar period. Stalin participated secretly in numerous violent events in Asia, including the ones in Xinjiang – East Turkestan in 1933-34 and 1937. Nearly all textbooks in Russia and abroad discuss the military manoeuvres of the Japanese during these events. They were representative of Stalin’s pervasive deception and disinformation campaign. The Japanese military believed it was able to conquer China. The Japanese junta could not comprehend Stalin’s political tricks until the end.

Stalin’s clandestine efforts were so successful that the Stalinist account of the history of the interwar period in Asia is still considered legitimate. It is depicted clearly in the verdict of the Tokyo trial of Japanese war criminals following World War II. Chapter 4 of the decision, titled “Japanese aggression against the USSR,” outlines Japanese crimes in 67 pages, ranging from the death of Zhang to violations of the Soviet-Japanese neutrality accord, but says nothing regarding Soviet Union violations. 

This state of affairs pleases everyone: Russia (as the successor to the USSR), the United States, Great Britain, and other countries that participated in the trial – no explanation needed; Japan because she does not wish to review this court, which has correctly condemned Japanese crimes, aggression, and massacres in numerous Asian countries. In other words, Stalin convinced Japan’s adversaries and Japan herself that she was responsible for her own demise. “Reflexive control” is the essence of Soviet and contemporary Russian military and political theory.

Approximately twenty years ago, a Russian historian asserted that the Soviet prosecution in Tokyo did everything possible to conceal the activities of both Soviet intelligence services, the GRU and the NKVD, in the Far East and that information about them was omitted from the meeting minutes of the Tribunal. If what is now known about these operations had been known in those years, certain courts would probably have responded differently to the defendants’ numerous allegations. An assertion like this in current Russia would be called treason.

Stalin sought to expel all “imperialist countries” from China and subjugate it to Soviet rule. Stalin accomplished his first objective but not his second. Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong were considerably more difficult to govern than communist dictators in Central and Eastern Europe. In conclusion, Stalin did not obtain his long-awaited victim, China.

The Japanese did not attack USSR in WWII

Political and military circles in Japan had tremendous hopes to conquer eastern Soviet territory. However, they were also aware of events between 1918-1921, when Japan attempted to conquer Siberia. In Tokyo, there was a discussion over whether it would be more advantageous for Japanese imperialism to expand its rule northward against the Soviet Union or southward against Britain, the United States, and the Netherlands. Radical circles within the Japanese military never gave up on conquering Siberia, but the Japanese military had begun to swing south by the mid-1930s for two reasons. First, by that time, the Soviet military supremacy in the Far East was abundantly clear, and it was evident that it would be nearly difficult to overcome this superiority. Second, the junta knew that Siberia would be far more challenging to develop economically than the south, which already possessed tremendous resources. To seize Siberia and Primorsky Krai, Tokyo must prepare a detailed operational strategy. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Tokyo conducted a comprehensive analysis of Soviet military capabilities. It was instantly established that Hitler was incapable of conquering the Soviet Union. Thus, Japan did not attack the Soviet Union despite Berlin’s repeated appeals. This enabled Stalin to send Soviet forces from the Far East to the west, preventing Hitler from capturing the Soviet Union. Thus, Japan did not attack the Soviet Union despite Berlin’s repeated appeals.

Stalin’s covert legacy

Moscow perfected Stalin’s operations of deception, disinformation, and sabotage. The military leadership takes pride in that Moscow’s two-volume camouflage manual is thicker than Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Russian President Vladimir Putin employed a deception against Ukraine in 2014. By 2022, however, he had exhausted all covert operation options and begun open military operations.


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