How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
THE Soviet Union emerged from victory in World War II with enlarged territories both in Europe and in Asia. The effect of ideological factors on Soviet policy receives so much attention today that one often forgets how strong an influence territorial changes in themselves exert upon subsequent policy. New boundaries may settle quarrels--or may exacerbate them. They may mark the limits of expansion of some Power--or the jumping-off places for greater advances. A careful scrutiny of the territorial acquisitions of the U.S.S.R. and of the strategic significance of the new frontiers which they have traced upon the map of Europe and Asia may offer clues to the direction of future Soviet moves.
A British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, who was also an eminent geographer, once wrote: "Frontiers are indeed the razor's edge on which hang suspended the modern issues of war and peace, of life and death to nations." And although it is probably true that frontier incidents alone are now unlikely to be the cause of a major war, they certainly can be the pretext. Of the danger spots of the last five years--Greece, Berlin, Jugoslavia, Tibet, Indo-China, Turkey and Korea--only the last two lie strictly adjacent to the frontiers of the U.S.S.R. But it is not easily forgotten that the power of the Soviet Union extends far beyond its own boundaries both in Europe and in Asia, thanks to its occupation forces in Germany and Austria, its military lines of communication through Rumania, Hungary and Poland, its creation of satellite neighbors and its privileged position in Manchuria.
Though the international boundaries of the Soviet Union are only about half as long as its coastline, they stretch for 10,000 miles. They delimit 11 bordering states, six in Europe and five in Asia. The sheer length of an international boundary, and the physical geography of the frontier region in which it lies, afford of course no criteria of frontier tension. Witness the war which Bolivia waged against Paraguay in 1932-35 in the Chaco, a tropical zone so forbidding geographically that it might have been expected to insulate peaceably the settled areas of the two states. Witness, too, in contrast, the peaceful stability of the long open frontier between the United States and Canada. But in the light of traditional Russian territorial ambitions, which now appear to be subsumed in Soviet foreign policy, and also of the international character of Soviet Socialism (misnamed Communism), the great length and wide distribution of the frontiers of the U.S.S.R. provide a tempting choice of theaters for diverse action--propaganda, ideological infiltration, sabotage, the fomenting of "civil" war (a phrase which has taken on new shades of meaning) and direct warfare undisguised--all designed to advance a common end.
"The old Europe has gone. The map is being rolled up and a new map is unrolling before us." So spoke the late General Smuts in 1943. The territorial expansion of the U.S.S.R. since 1938 has taken place mostly in Europe, but in both Asia and Europe other gains were considerable, though less obvious. Along the 900-mile boundary between the Barents Sea and the Gulf of Finland, Soviet accessions of territory were secured by the Treaty of Moscow with Finland in March 1940. They were increased after the second Soviet-Finnish war by the peace treaty of February 1947. Between the Baltic and Black Seas, also a distance not far short of 900 miles, gains were first effected under cover of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939; they were subsequently lost but recovered during the Soviet-German war of 1941-45. Peace treaties made in 1947 with Rumania and Hungary determined some of these territorial changes; the others are mainly based on the decisions made at Yalta and Potsdam in 1945.
By its expansion in Europe, the Soviet Union projected itself westward into the politically unstable "shatter zone" of Central Europe. The three Baltic States were brought into the Union as constituent Soviet Socialist Republics, and accessions of territory were made at the expense of no less than five states--Finland, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Rumania. These additions amount to about 190,000 square miles: if they enlarge the total area of the U.S.S.R. by little more than 2 percent, nevertheless they add an area larger than California, made up of lands strung out through 25 degrees of latitude--from that of northern Alaska to that of Portland, Oregon. Moreover, the population of the Union has been increased by some 24,000,000 people, about half of whom are either Ukrainian or White Russian. This represents an increase of Soviet manpower by nearly 15 percent. We may note in particular that the U.S.S.R.'s maritime position is substantially improved; its boundary between the Baltic and the Black Sea is shortened, and in the extreme south it overlaps the watershed of the Carpathian Mountains. It is significant, too, that Soviet territories now flank Poland on her northern side. And not the least important result of the Soviet gains in Europe is the establishment of direct contact with three states--Norway, Czechoslovakia and Hungary--which were formerly separated from the U.S.S.R., the first by Finnish, and the last two by Polish and Rumanian territory.
Let us examine these new boundaries in more detail. The U.S.S.R. advanced its boundaries at the expense of Finland in three sectors (although 400,000 Finns migrated from the ceded areas to resettle in Finland). The most important adjustment was in the Karelian Isthmus--the neck of land, narrowing to less than 50 miles in width between Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland, at the head of which lie Leningrad and the insular base of Kronstadt. When, after World War I, the Grand Duchy of Finland, which had been attached to the Russian Empire since 1809, was replaced by an independent Finnish republic, the boundary across the isthmus was drawn favorably for the Finns, who profited by the weakness of the new Bolshevik régime. Behind this boundary, making full use of the constriction of the isthmus, Finland built her main defense works, the Mannerheim Line, which lay only about 30 miles from Leningrad. The vulnerability of Leningrad from this landward side was doubtless the primary reason for the Soviet attack on Finland in November 1939. Leningrad, with its suburbs, was a city of more than 3,000,000 inhabitants--the largest city in the world in such a high latitude (60° N.). It accounted for fully one-tenth of all Soviet industrial production, contained important shipbuilding yards, and commanded the only Soviet outlet to the Baltic.
The area annexed from Finland in the Karelian Isthmus extends from the head of the Gulf to and beyond the northern and eastern shores of Lake Ladoga. The southern part of this territory has been added to the Leningrad oblast of the R.S.F.S.R. (Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic), and the rest to the Karelian-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic, which, as a result, obtains an outlet to the Baltic through the port of Vyborg, formerly Viipuri. The U.S.S.R. therefore now holds not only the whole of the isthmus--possession of which alone made the military defense of Finland possible--but also the thriving seaport and water and rail focus of Vyborg. Soviet control of the Gulf of Finland was confirmed by the acquisition, through the 1947 treaty, of a lease for 50 years of the Porkkala area and its peninsula, which command access to Helsinki by water. The U.S.S.R. had earlier gained control of the southern shore of the Gulf from the Estonian coast, on which the port of Tallinn is linked by rail to Leningrad.
The second area detached from Finland lies astride the Arctic Circle at the waist of Finland, between the White Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia. This area is part of a great wilderness of lakes and forests, scantily peopled by Finns, Karelians--themselves a Finnish people--and Russians. In contrast to the well-populated Karelian Isthmus, this forms a frontier of separation between Finland and the U.S.S.R. The Soviet territory abutting this frontier consists of the Murmansk oblast of the R.S.F.S.R. in the Kola Peninsula (created in 1938), and southward of this, between the White Sea and Lake Ladoga, the Karelian-Finnish S.S.R. which, after the first Russo-Finnish war, replaced the Karelian-Finnish A.S.S.R.,[i] set up in 1923. These two areas cover 113,000 square miles. Only 760,000 inhabitants were recorded there in 1939, despite substantial mining, hydroelectric, transport and urban development during the Soviet period. The Finns and Karelians of Karelian-Finnish A.S.S.R. were mixing with immigrant Russians whose speech was becoming dominant. These territories acquired an increasing importance in the transport system of the U.S.S.R. The Baltic-White Sea ("Stalin") canal passes through the Karelian-Finnish S.S.R.; it is useful (though only for six months of the year) both for the shipment of bulk cargo and also for the interchange of naval vessels and icebreakers, by way of the Arctic Sea Route, between Baltic and Soviet Pacific ports. The Leningrad-Murmansk railway, electrified between Kandalaksha and Murmansk, and at least in part double-tracked, crosses both territories; and from Kandalaksha, passing through the annexed area, a line goes to Kemi near the Finnish-Swedish frontier. The line is to be completed by the Finns by 1952.
Beyond the Arctic Circle, the U.S.S.R. succeeded in dispossessing Finland of the corridor through which passes the Arctic road from Kemi to the port of Petsamo (now Pechenga), with its direct all-year access to the North Atlantic Ocean. This also gave the Soviets possession of the nickel smelters of Pechenga, formerly owned by the Inco-Mond Canadian Nickel Combine, and created a common boundary between the U.S.S.R. and Norway's province of Finnmark. Although railways are lacking, a road links Pechenga with Kirkenes and its iron mines, just across the boundary. The road continues westward toward a number of small towns, commanding fine harbors, such as the Alta fjord (where the Tirpitz screened herself with smoke to the lasting damage of the local trees), Hammerfest, Tromso and Narvik. Thus the U.S.S.R. now has direct access to northern Norway, the coast of which--so important strategically to Hitler in World War II--flanks the shortest sea route to Russia. These coastal waters with their many deep and long fjords are kept open all the year by the Gulf Stream drift, in contrast to those of the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland.
By the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and part of East Prussia, the U.S.S.R. pushed its frontiers beyond the territories held by the Russian Empire. Estonia and north Latvia were taken from Sweden by Peter the Great and held until the close of World War I. The remainder of Latvia and Lithuania had passed to Russia only with the third partition of Poland in 1795. The recent partition of German East Prussia added the northern part, including Königsberg (renamed Kaliningrad) and the rail junction of Insterburg, to the Lithuanian S.S.R. and thus to the U.S.S.R. This is a bold and novel change, for the Teutonic Knights began to colonize and master this area as long ago as the thirteenth century.
The plebiscites of 1940, by which the peoples of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania supposedly expressed their desire to join the Soviet Union as constituent republics, need not be taken very seriously. It is true that the natural hinterlands of these countries lie in the Great Russian plain, and that railways connect their ports with this region. On purely economic grounds their union with the U.S.S.R. might appear sensible. But obviously that is but part of the story. Their acquisition brought marked advantages to the U.S.S.R. German preëminence has been ended, Finland has been deprived of her maritime defenses, the demilitarization of the Aland Islands continues, the Soviet coastlands and insular emplacements front southeastern Sweden, and friendly Polish ports lie westward of Kaliningrad. Leningrad is protected on the side from which the Nazi attack was launched in 1941. The Soviet boundary is shortened and strategically improved, since Soviet East Prussia now adjoins northern Poland. Apart from their seaports and their railroad connections, these Baltic lands, chiefly wooded and agricultural, add little of special value to the U.S.S.R.'s resources, though the oil shales of Estonia provide a convenient supply of fuel oil for Leningrad and for Baltic shipping. We may note that, despite the extent of this expansion, the gateways to the Baltic Sea still lie outside Soviet control. The gateways are the Danish Straits and the Kiel Canal.
The Soviet-Polish boundary now lies about 100 to 200 miles farther west than in the inter-war years, although it has not reached the western limits of Tsarist Russia in 1914, when so-called "Congress Poland"--all that survived of a Polish state--was ruled by the Tsar as King. The new boundary runs east-west in the north, where it also delimits the Lithuanian S.S.R., and then strikes south, leaving Grodno in Soviet hands. Farther south the boundary is aligned with the upper Bug River, so that the whole of the Pripet marshes falls to Byelorussian (White Russian) S.S.R.; it then diverges southwestward across the Galician plateau to the Carpathian Mountains. The old fortress of Przemysl lies just within Poland, but the large city of Lwow, originally founded by a Russian prince but held by Poland for several centuries, has passed to the Soviets as part of the Ukraine S.S.R. Except for East Prussia, and some small adjustments in the south which roughly balance, the Soviet-Polish boundary, as defined by the Potsdam Agreement, coincides closely with the ethnographic boundary drawn up by Lord Curzon in 1920. The proportion of Poles in the population of the area taken by the U.S.S.R. has been much debated, but seems unlikely to have been greatly in excess of 20 percent; indeed, White Russians and Ukrainians made up at least two-thirds of the total population of about 13,000,000, which before the war included more than 1,000,000 Jews. In the Soviet view, these accessions marked the recovery of Russia's "Western Lands."
The "Western Lands" lopped off from Poland consist of good farmland in the old southern provinces of Podolia and Volhynia, but the greater part of the area consists of lowlands in which transport facilities are poor and farming efficiency low. Earlier Russian occupation did nothing to advance the economy of this area (in contrast with Austrian and, still more, Prussian development of territory annexed from Poland). Soviet large-scale drainage works may improve the Pripet marshes; otherwise the economy of this area has little to add to that of the U.S.S.R. The Galician oil field has long been a dwindling asset. But again, strategically, the Soviets have profited importantly. The U.S.S.R. now holds the junction of Brest-Litovsk on the main double-tracked Moscow-Warsaw line and, more important perhaps, the junction of Lwow on the main double-tracked railway from Odessa to Krakow, Breslau and Berlin. From Lwow, too, there are single-track lines north to Lublin and Warsaw and south across the Carpathians into Hungary. The city of Lwow has for centuries served as a fortress and market place on a European thoroughfare: it lies on that diagonal route-way from the Black Sea to Belgium, between the Carpathians and the Pripet marshes, which has facilitated the movements of peoples and armies from prehistoric times.
Ruthenia, as the Hungarians call it, Sub-Carpathian Russia or Carpatho-Ukraine, as the Russians know it, is geographically and strategically more important than would appear from a glance at an atlas map. It is sharply distinguished from the higher and more rugged Slovakian and Rumanian Carpathians which lie to the west and to the east. Worn down and cut by river valleys and passes as it is, it offers a natural passage between the Galician plateau and the Hungarian basin. Through its passes came the Magyars who occupied Hungary at the end of the ninth century, the Tsar's armies which overthrew the so-called revolution in Hungary in 1849 and attacked the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1915, and the Red Army in 1945. Ruthenia is the "appendix" area in the extreme east of the Czechoslovak republic. Historically part of the Hungarian kingdom, it passed to Czechoslovakia after World War I, and was returned to Hungary by Czechoslovakia, under Nazi pressure, in March 1939. Its shepherds and peasants--about 850,000--are largely of Ukrainian descent, so that the U.S.S.R. was able to present the annexation of the area as the liberation of brothers from alien rule. But to this ethnographic interest must clearly be added a strategical interest, for roads from Ruthenia lead into Slovakia, as well as a railway into Hungary, with which the Ukraine S.S.R. now has a common frontier.
The Soviet Union had old scores to settle with the Rumanians, as with the Poles, when the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 gave her the chance. From Rumania the U.S.S.R. seized the territories of northern Bukovina and Bessarabia, and thus advanced its boundaries to the Prut River and the Danube delta. Historically Bukovina was part of the Principality of Moldavia which, united with Wallachia in 1859, became the independent Rumanian state, freed from suzerainty in 1878. The drainage of the Prut and Siret Rivers to the Black Sea also appears to attach Bukovina to Moldavia, but only in the south of Bukovina are the inhabitants mainly Rumanian. Soviet interest in this forested Carpathian area is partly ethnographic, since, in the northern part which it has taken, Ukrainian people formed a large minority. Northern Bukovina fits neatly into the new Soviet frontier pattern, for it connects by single-track railways Bessarabia, Sub-Carpathian Russia and Ukrainian Galicia. The chief city, Cerna&ucaron;ti, has passed to the U.S.S.R., and since 1940 northern Bukovina has been merged in the Ukraine S.S.R.
Bessarabia has long been a contested frontier region. This area of steppe--highly productive as farm land--lies between the Dniester and Prut Rivers and fronts both the Danube delta and the Black Sea. Its population of about 3,000,000 is very mixed, at least in the towns. Rumanians--or, as the Russians preferred to call them, Moldavians--made up, however, about 56 percent of the total; Ukrainians and Russians made up 23 percent; and Jews 12 percent. Like Bukovina, Bessarabia was historically part of Moldavia, but in 1812 the Tsar Alexander, after a short and successful campaign against the Turks, acquired it by treaty. In 1856, after the Crimean War, although Russia retained Bessarabia, the southern boundary was withdrawn more than 20 miles north of the Danube delta. Only in 1919, after World War I, did Bessarabia become part of the Rumanian kingdom.
Clearly the U.S.S.R. had no intention of accepting the permanent loss of this territory. Only 260,000 Rumanians, enumerated under the heading "Moldavians," are recorded in the Soviet census of 1939, and most of them dwelt in western Ukraine between the Bug and Dniester Rivers. In 1933 the Moldavian A.S.S.R. was organized, although Moldavians constituted only about one-third of its population. When Bessarabia was occupied in 1940, the Moldavian S.S.R. (only 13,000 square miles in area with a 1940 population of 2,400,000) was formed by adding the greater part of Bessarabia to most of the much smaller Moldavian A.S.S.R. What remained of Bessarabia, including her coast-land and the approach to the Danube, was assigned to the Ukraine S.S.R.
Bessarabia's supplies of grain and animal products are not a negligible asset, for, unlike the Ukraine, she has no large urban population to consume the surplus produce of her farms. But the U.S.S.R. has derived greater advantages than this from the annexation of northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. The boundary of the new Soviet unit lies along the Kiliya branch of the Danube delta and this gives it the right to be regarded as a "Danubian state." Thus, through its ascendancy over the satellite states of Rumania and Hungary, and its presence on the upper Danube in occupied Austria, the U.S.S.R. has been able to prevent the operation of the Danube Convention of 1921, which declared the Danube an "international river," open, under the safeguard of two international commissions, to the commerce of all nations. Free navigation of the Danube is considered incompatible with Soviet ideas of secrecy and security; and control of Danube navigation also provides a useful bargaining counter in any international discussions about the Turkish Straits. In addition, Rumania's "maritime" ports on the Danube--Galati and Braila--lie just beyond the Soviet boundary. Only the steppe corridor of Rumanian Dobruja separates the U.S.S.R. from Bulgaria, which commands access to the Turkish Straits. And we may complete this interesting strategic picture by noting that the Soviet Union now borders Rumania all the way from the Danube, via Bessarabia and Bukovina, to Ruthenia.
This pattern of satellite states beyond the Soviet frontier is repeated in Asia, where Soviet foreign policy has been active. The international frontiers of the U.S.S.R. in Asia extend some 8,000 miles in Southwest Asia, High (or Central) Asia, and the Far East. They also closely approach the Indian subcontinent. These boundaries have been relatively stable, though since 1938 the Soviet Union has acquired Tannu Tuva, south Sakhalin (Karafuto), the Kurile Islands and Port Arthur--a total of some 80,000 square miles. But although the borders of Soviet Asia might appear to be frontiers of separation, since they lie mostly in country remarkable for its scanty settlement, lofty mountain chains and high arid plateaus, there has been international disquiet at many points. Nor should it be assumed that because the Soviet boundaries in Asia have changed little the Russian position on her Asiatic marches has not been strengthened by other means.
Soviet Asia borders on Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan in Southwest Asia. Following the Soviet-Turkish treaty of 1921, the relations between the Soviet Union and the Republic of Turkey were friendly, but the Soviet denunciation in 1945 of the Soviet-Turkish Treaty of Non-Aggression (made in 1925) signalized the resumption of the old Tsarist policy. By a direct approach to Turkey in 1945 and 1946, the U.S.S.R. tried to secure joint control and defense of the Straits, superseding the Montreux Convention to which the Soviet Union was a party in 1936. The attempt failed. In 1945 the U.S.S.R. also fruitlessly claimed from Turkey the areas around Ardahan and Kars which adjoin the Georgian and Armenian S.S.R.s and contain a small minority of Armenians. These areas were in Russian hands between 1878 and 1917, but their cession to Turkey was confirmed by the Treaty of 1921.
Like Turkey, Iran is regarded by the U.S.S.R. as a barrier in its path to the sea and as a possible enemy base. The U.S.S.R. borders Iran both in South Caucasus and in Central Asia, and shares with her the navigation of the Caspian Sea. Weakly organized and incapable of defense against a powerful aggressor, Iran has survived as a buffer state. When Nazi intervention was threatened here in 1941, British and Soviet troops temporarily occupied their respective "spheres of influence," and Iran became an Allied supply route to the U.S.S.R. The Soviet Union showed marked reluctance to withdraw her troops from north Iran by the agreed date--March 2, 1946. Tabriz, capital of the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, is an important strategic center commanding roads into Turkey and Iraq, and linked to the Soviet railway system by a broad-gauge line to Dzhulfa. In order to bring pressure to bear on the government at Teheran to grant a desired oil concession, the U.S.S.R. arranged that the Tudeh Party should set up a separatist régime in Azerbaijan. However, these manœuvres failed, as did similar attempts to separate the Kurds of Iran. After the case had been taken up by the Security Council of the United Nations, Soviet troops were withdrawn, the puppet régime was overthrown, and the Tudeh Party proscribed. Now Communist groups are taking advantage of the crisis over the nationalization of the British-owned oil fields in south Iran to demonstrate openly against the West and the Government.
Three of the Soviet Central Asian republics--Turkmen S.S.R. Uzbek S.S.R. and Tadzhik S.S.R.--adjoin Afghanistan. As a semi-independent state, it acquired international prominence with the steady expansion of Russia in Central Asia during the later decades of the nineteenth century. It is an inland country of rugged mountains and semi-desert plains, the population of which comprises many ethnic elements. Afghanistan might well have passed under Russian rule save that her position commanding the chief landward approach to India awakened British opposition. There is no railway in the country, although railways reach the frontiers of Afghanistan at Kushka and Termez on the Soviet side, and at the Khyber and Chaman Passes on the Pakistan side. A few historic highways lead to the gateways of India, via Herat, Kabul and Kandahar. British policy sought to create a friendly and viable Afghan state as a buffer to further Russian expansion, and to this end secured the delimitation (and partial demarcation) of her boundaries during the 1880's and 1890's. In a Convention of 1907 Russia formally avowed that Afghanistan lay outside her sphere of influence. Britain conducted the foreign affairs of Afghanistan until 1919.
The defense of the Indian subcontinent on its northwestern marches now devolves primarily on Pakistan. Soviet interest in this borderland appears restrained but not lacking. Afghanistan contains more Tadzhiks than does the Tadzhik S.S.R., and also a small number of Uzbeks. The growing industrialization and Westernization of the Soviet Central Asian republics contrast sharply with the relatively unprogressive Afghan way of life. The Soviet-Afghan frontier could always provide possibilities for Soviet action on an ethnographic pretext.
The Soviet-Afghan boundary in eastern Afghanistan, undemarcated, lies in the Wankhan area between the forbidding Pamir and Hindu Kush Mountains. Although the U.S.S.R. and Pakistan are separated by only about 25 miles, their proximity has no strategic significance. Farther to the east, the Soviet Tadzhik, Kirgiz and Kazakh republics border Chinese Sinkiang. A few historic highways pass through Sinkiang, and those linking Central Asia to Lanchow, Chungking and Peking are open to motor traffic. From the Soviet Turkestan-Siberian railway between Ayaguz and Alma-Ata (the Kazakh capital), roads give access to the Sinkiang border about 100 miles away. Sinkiang is a vast and arid country with a population of only 4,000,000, but its northern areas, which are those nearest to the U.S.S.R., are the more populous and potentially the richest. They are reported to contain wolfram, oil and gold, as well as coal, iron and copper. China's hold on these northern areas, north of the Tien Shan, dates only from the eighteenth century and has always been weak, for this remote province is not ethnically Chinese. Turki-speaking Moslems make up 77 percent of Sinkiang's population, 10 percent are Kazakhs and only 8 percent Chinese. In the Sino-Soviet Treaty of 1945 the U.S.S.R. avowed that she had no intention of interfering in China's internal affairs, but Sinkiang has clearly become a field for Soviet political and economic penetration. The area is orientated toward the U.S.S.R. geographically, and now by air services. In 1944, the three northern districts of Sinkiang, whose population is half Kazakh, set up the "Republic of East Sinkiang" (not without help from across the border) in defiance of the Nationalist Government of China. Even now when, officially, cordial relations exist between Moscow and Peking, the Soviet hold on Sinkiang is likely to be strengthened.
In Southwest Asia, where the continental interests of the U.S.S.R. have been balanced by those of the Western maritime Powers, the Soviet boundaries have remained unchanged. But in Central Asia, where the U.S.S.R. and China meet along a mountainous borderland, the Soviet Union has profited territorially from China's weakness. The absorption of the Republic of Tannu Tuva into the U.S.S.R. in 1945, as an autonomous oblast of the R.S.F.S.R., is the logical culmination of a policy long pursued by Tsarist Russia and the U.S.S.R. The Tuva Autonomous Region is a mountainous area of about 65,000 square miles, with a Mongol population of only 70,000. It contains the headwaters of Yenisei River which flows across Siberia, and holds promise for gold and other minerals, and hydroelectricity. A road crosses the area, thus linking Western Siberia to Outer Mongolia, so that Tuva also has strategical significance.
For some 1,800 miles, from the Altai krai of Western Siberia to the Chita oblast of Eastern Siberia, the R.S.F.S.R.--the giant federalized state of the Soviet Union--borders Outer Mongolia. Here, as in Sinkiang and Tuva, geography and politics have favored Soviet policy. The half of Outer Mongolia north of the Gobi Desert is grassland and forest, and this part lies much closer to the U.S.S.R. than to settled China. After the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in 1911, the power of the Chinese central government in this peripheral region became weak. The Mongols of Outer Mongolia, who number about 2,100,000 and are akin to those of the neighboring Buryat-Mongol A.S.S.R. and the Tuva Autonomous Region, were organized with Soviet help as the Mongolian People's Republic as long ago as 1921. With the advent of the Japanese in Manchuria, Jehol and Inner Mongolia in the early 1930's, Soviet interest in this Mongolian republic naturally increased, for Outer Mongolia covers the direct approach from the Far East to Eastern Siberia and thus protects the vital and vulnerable Trans-Siberian railway. A Soviet-Mongolian treaty of defensive alliance was signed in 1936 to meet local Japanese threats, and joint Soviet and Mongolian motorized forces took part in the advance toward Kalgan and north China in the U.S.S.R.'s short campaign against the Japanese in July 1945.
In 1945, the Soviet Union persuaded China to renounce her political claims to Outer Mongolia, and to approve a plebiscite on the issue of complete independence. (The Yalta Agreement had stipulated the maintenance of the political status quo in Outer Mongolia.) One of the most remarkable of Soviet-sponsored plebiscites followed in October 1945: it confirmed at one and the same time the nominal independence of the Mongolian People's Republic, and its subjection to the U.S.S.R. The territory and resources of this republic are valuable to the Soviets economically as well as strategically. It yields wool and hides, in which Russia is deficient, and like other parts of Central Asia has mineral wealth. Soviet prospectors have located deposits of iron, coal, copper, lead, gold and silver, and their development has begun. The Soviet broad-gauge railway reaches the Mongolian capital--Ulan Bator--which is thus linked to the Trans-Siberian at Ulan Ude, the Buryat-Mongol capital.
In this century, Russians have always considered the Far Eastern frontiers with China and Korea their most important in Asia. Russians reached the Pacific as early as about 1645, before they had established footholds on either the Baltic or Black Seas. The Tsarist Empire did not, however, acquire its most valuable Far Eastern territories until, by treaties with China in 1858 and 1860, it obtained a boundary along the Amur River and its tributary, the Ussuri. Manchuria, in turn a field for Russian and Japanese exploitation, has become the most industrialized part of China. It is a well-endowed land, in an early state of its development, possessing iron ore, coal and metallic minerals, as well as grain, soya and edible oil. Now that the Japanese Empire has been destroyed and a Communist régime holds sway in China, the Soviet position in the Far East is very favorable. By the secret agreement made at Yalta in 1945, which provided for Soviet entry into the war against Japan, the U.S.S.R. made substantial territorial and other gains in the Far East. Briefly these include the return of the Kurile Islands and south Sakhalin (thus making the Sea of Okhotsk a Russian lake), a lease of Port Arthur for a Soviet naval base, and the internationalization of the commercial port of Dairen. Even more important was the recognition of the privileged position of the Soviet Union in Manchuria, and of her joint control with China of the Manchurian railways. The strategical value of this is obvious.
During the inter-war period the Soviet Union did not lack space; now it enjoys a lebensraum such as Hitler only dreamed of. Its aggrandizement was achieved partly by diplomacy and partly by war. In some areas history and ethnography supply some justification for this expansion; in others it reflects merely the arbitrary application of the might of the victor. It must be granted that all strong states have desired secure frontiers and that the interpretation of "security" always involves expansion of territory. It must be admitted, too, that in Central Asia the U.S.S.R. brings elements of Western material civilization to backward countries which need them in order to develop their natural resources more fully. For 20 years after the Revolution, Soviet Russia was confined by the cordon sanitaire of a suspicious and hostile world. Now that she has recovered her "Western Lands," and gained much besides in Europe and in Asia, suspicion and anxiety about her plans are greater than ever. Russian territorial expansion alone is by no means the cause of this anxiety. But careful note should be taken of the particulars of Soviet expansion. The great breadth of the new frontiers of the U.S.S.R. provide the thresholds to further Soviet adventure. This seems especially true of the new frontiers in Europe.
[i] An Associated Soviet Socialist Republic (A.S.S.R.) is administratively part of a Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.); the latter is a constituent republic of the federated Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.).