The dictator-the foundling

Soviet officer became the leader of North Korea. Now the whole world is afraid of his grandson

Both Germany and Vietnam divided during the cold war, has long been reunited in a single state. But the Korean Peninsula remains divided, and who knows whether we’ll live up to his Association. Why the partition of Korea after World war II was the result of unforeseen circumstances? Chose whether the Soviet commanders to the capital and the official name for North Korea? As captain of the red army became its ruler, and lived to see the Yeltsin era? “” tells the incredible destiny of Kim Il sung, passed the way from the Manchurian partisans and the Soviet officer to the sole holder of the most closed countries in the world.



The appearance on the map of the world North Korea was the result of historical accident. When in the summer of 1945, Stalin and us President Truman agreed to free the Korean Peninsula from Japanese forces, it is unlikely they could have predicted what consequences will this situational decision. At that time, Moscow and Washington, the Korean question was considered minor, and at first the allies did not even think about the division of Korea into two States.

However, as in the case of Germany and Vietnam, the logic of the flares of the cold war led to the division of the country in 1949 and the subsequent bloody three-year war. Technically, the Korean war of 1950-1953 is not finished even now (temporary truce), as still not been overcome and the division of the country. As a result, now the Korean Peninsula became the main powder keg, not only for East Asia but for the whole world. The fact that Stalin was considered a peripheral story, now turned into a global problem.



Kim Il sung at the rally in Pyongyang on 14 October 1945

Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia


Even the choice of the future of the North Korean capital was the result of random decisions of the Soviet military. In August 1945, North Korea from the Japanese liberated part of the 25th army (commander — Colonel-General Ivan Chistyakov) of the 1st far Eastern front (commanded by Marshal Kirill Meretskov). It’s logical that the command of the 25th army at the end of the fighting had to deal with daily management issues occupied territories. Meretskov suggested that Chistyakov for the placing of staff to choose two cities of Hamhung and Pyongyang, and he guided above all by military considerations, chose the latter.

The Soviet occupation administration in North Korea immediately, a serious problem emerged: someone to rely on among the local population? How were they solving it are described in detail in the book of Andrew Lankov “North Korea: yesterday and today”. At that time the Korean Communists were more popular in the South (they were headed by Pak hon-Yong, who later became the Minister of foreign Affairs of Korea and one of the first victims of the repressions of Kim Il sung). In the North of the Korean Peninsula, then dominated by nationalist sentiments, the most influential exponent of which was considered Cho man-Sik. However, the elderly and a headstrong veteran of the Korean national liberation movement has not found a common language with the Soviet generals.

The unexpected leader

And here is the way appeared Kim Il sung, arrived from Vladivostok to Pyongyang at the end of September 1945 on the ship “Pugachev”. Captain 88-th separate rifle brigade of the red army, formed in the Khabarovsk territory of the former Manchurian partisans, had not participated in the short Soviet-Japanese war. He was among several hundreds of Koreans sent from the Soviet Union to their historic homeland to strengthen the personnel of the Soviet military administration. As the most senior of them, he was appointed assistant to the military commandant of Pyongyang.

Most likely, such a turn of events was for the 33-year-old Kim Il sung as a complete surprise. Over the years a quiet life in the Soviet rear had children named Russian names (his son Kim Jong Il at birth was recorded as Yuri Irsenovich Kim), which indirectly indicates the intention of the future North Korean dictator to make a military career in the Soviet Union.

Writes Lankov, Kim Il sung wanted to enter the Academy, and “turn the story a little differently … somewhere in Moscow lived now an elderly retired Colonel or even major General of the Soviet army, Kim Il sung, and his son George would work in some of the Moscow research Institute, and in the late eighties, like most Metropolitan intellectuals, rather, enthusiastically participated in the mass marches of the “Democratic Russia” and similar organizations.”

The leader of the Korean people Kim Il sung was not immediately, but only after a kind of casting to the Soviet leadership. Anyway, so universalcontroller Boris Krishtul, which in 80-e years this was allegedly told by a member of the Military Council of the 25th army, General Nikolai Lebedev in preparation for the filming of “Second deed”. According to him, army intelligence officers and political workers had a candidate, but then “slipped-still a pig” Beria, who “never lost an opportunity to frame the GRU, which he did not obey, and exalt the role”. If you believe Lebedev, “tight chubby Korean was fluent in Russian, but in the sense of the political background was dense, and the control on the basics of Marxism-Leninism, Kim Il sung failed me completely… I had to sculpt out what it was… Kim had to realize the importance of his mission, and in this he succeeded most rapidly swelled with pride as yeast”.

Now it’s hard to say how credible this story is (General Lebedev died in 1992) — a famous contemporary specialist in Korea Konstantin Asmolov in an interview with “” has expressed doubt in this.



Kim Il sung, Leonid Brezhnev, 1956

Photo: Russian state


Political debut of Kim Il sung was held on 14 October 1945: during the solemn meeting in honor of the red army at the Pyongyang stadium, the commander of the 25th army, General Chistyakov introduced him as “national hero” and “famous partisan”. Kim was dressed in civilian clothes and gave him the text of a speech written by Soviet officers and translated into the Korean language. So suddenly found himself a little-known home of the captain of the red army has become the Supreme leader of the Korean people.

However, the emergence of Kim as the dictator happened slowly and gradually. As pointed out by Lankov, “hardly Kim Il sung in 1946 and even 1949 can be called the ruler of Korea in the strict sense of the word. A decisive influence on the life of the country had then the Soviet military authorities and the officers of advisors… Until the mid-1950s all appointments of officers to positions above the regimental commander were required to comply with the Soviet Embassy.” This relates also to the approval of the Constitution and the name of the new state. The instinct of seeking power at the former modest Soviet officer appeared much later.

“You hit our pilot Lee see TSYN”

In the future, the efforts of official Pyongyang propaganda the decisive role of the USSR in the development of North Korean statehood would be forgotten. With photographs of the speech Kim Il sung at the rally on October 14, 1945, will disappear not only the order of the red banner on the chest of a young leader, but also figures of standing behind him the Soviet military leaders of the occupation administration. Now North Korea is considered to be that the rally was organized in honor of Kim Il sung. Subsequently rewriting the true history took the country hypertrophied forms, sometimes reaching the point of absurdity.

Now there not very much to mention the key role of the Soviet forces liberating Korea from decades of Japanese occupation. And although in the center of Pyongyang on mount Moranbong still stands erected in their honor in the Liberation monument, in the great Fatherland liberation war Museum, the contribution of the Soviet Union in the liberation of Korea is dedicated to only one room internationalists, and that the Soviet troops are there mentioned along with the Chinese “people’s volunteers”.

However, after the formation of the DPRK, the Soviet Union not only provided it with military aid, but helped to survive during the Korean war. In Western historiography regarding the role of Moscow in unleashing sushestvuet major versions. Historian Alexander Dallin considered an invasion of the North Korean army to the South part of the global expansion of Stalin. However, the majority of modern American historians (for example, Katherine Wetherby) refutes such an interpretation.

The American scientist Marshall Shulman and his colleagues Adam Ulam and Bruce Cumings linked the causes of the Korean war in the context of complex and contradictory relations between Stalin, Mao Zedong and Kim Il sung. In any case, no one doubted that North Korea started the war after the coordination with Moscow. Modern Russian historian Konstantin Asmolov believes that the North Korean leaders are simply introduced Stalin misleading, promising him in case of war a General uprising in the South.

When in October 1950 the North Korean army was on the verge of defeat, she came to the aid of Moscow and Beijing. China sent to the neighboring country of 140 divisions of “people’s volunteers” (about one million), and the Soviet Union secretly sent the 64th fighter aviation corps (composed of 324 th fighter air division under the command of Ivan Kozhedub), a unit of communication troops and gunners of projectorion. The Soviet planes carried Chinese markings, our pilots are equipped in the Chinese form, and their names were altered to Chinese style.

A famous story about the “Russian aces” si No Cina, Wang Yu Shina and Lee si Zina entered Soviet folklore, including the famous song “Phantom”, the story of which is conducted on behalf of the downed American pilot (although it is there on the Vietnam war). However, our pilots had a limited list of tasks. They covered critical infrastructure, but directly in the hostilities did not participate.

Bad joke

The speech of Khrushchev at the twentieth party Congress condemning Stalin in the DPRK met with hostility, and then relations between Moscow and Pyongyang became noticeably cooler. However, after some hesitation and a staunch Stalinist Kim Il sung did not dare to go on a complete break with the Soviet Union, preferring to maneuver between them and China. In 1978, he strongly condemned the entry of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia and the overthrow of the Pro-Chinese Pol Pot regime, but a year later he supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Kim Il sung at the red square in Moscow, 1961

Photo: Vasiliy Egorov / TASS

As a result, the DPRK received from the Soviet Union raw materials, electronics and industrial equipment at prices 30 percent below the world. Moreover, trade was conducted on barter terms, which was more favorable to Pyongyang than Moscow. During the two visits of Kim Il sung in the Soviet Union (1984 and 1986), it has made donations of the latest Soviet MiG-23 and MiG-29 radars for early warning, as well as substantial financial assistance. In the end, the time of the Soviet collapse, North Korea owes Moscow about three billion dollars.


00:10 — August 22, 2016

Running man

As citizens of the DPRK fled from the Juche idea in the USSR and China

That all changed in the years of perestroika, when the Soviet Union established relations with the United States and China. In the new political situation in North Korea was the Kremlin’s former strategic importance and its poor economy has become for our country, Frank burden (especially compared to the prosperous South). And Kim Il sung looked with suspicion on Gorbachev and his peace initiative. In order to avoid “the export of perestroika,” he is as limited cultural contacts with the Northern neighbor. A sharp rejection of Pyongyang was caused by Moscow’s intention to recognize South Korea.

The Kremlin did not want to offend the aging Kim Il sung, so I decided to take the time to establish dialogue with South Korea and to wait until the end of the summer Olympics, held in 1988 in Seoul. However, North Korea did not appreciate this gesture of goodwill and continued loudly to protest and even to blackmail the Soviet leaders.

In 1990, the former captain of the red army, the fate who became a dictator, refused to accept the Minister of foreign Affairs of the USSR Eduard Shevardnadze, who specially arrived in the DPRK to report on the final decision of Moscow to recognize South Korea and to establish diplomatic relations with it. As recalled later, the Soviet Ambassador Alexander Kapten, this news has caused in Pyongyang “a real explosion of indignation”. On Shevardnadze’s barrage of accusations, the matter even reached the threats to recognize Japan’s territorial claims to our country.

After the official establishment of contacts between Moscow and Seoul in September 1990, Kim Il sung was dissatisfied with the Soviet Union and increasingly looking towards Beijing. In August 1991, he was one of the few world leaders who openly supported the coup, and after its failure, decided to wait for his return to the Kremlin Communists. The new Russian government did not forget: when North Korean dictator died in July 1994, they, this event is ignored, not expressing the neighboring country, even formal condolences.



The report of the program “Time” about the visit of Kim Il sung to Moscow. 1986

Video: Choson TV / YouTube

To overcome the mutual exclusion and to unfreeze bilateral relations have been called the visit of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to Pyongyang in July 2000. During the summit talks, Kim Jong-Il was the son of Kim Il sung, who was born near Khabarovsk and was given the name Yuri Irsenovich Kim — promised the Russian leader to abandon the development of nuclear missile programs. However, three weeks later, in an interview with reporters from South Korea, he called these words of a joke in passing. Since then, the Russian President more than in Pyongyang did not go.

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