2020: Lake Baikal Region: Russian Weak Point and Menace to China

Although Russia and China announced a friendship with “no limits” some articles in the Chinese press point to China’s difficult history with Russia and urge caution. An earlier article translated here brought up Russian Empire territorial gains at Qing Dynasty China’s expense during the mid 19th century: Weibo: We Got Hong Kong Back, Why Not Vladivostok? This article has appeared several times in various Chinese media, most recently in July 2022. How many times it is hard to say; censors often sweep troublesome articles off the Internet or at least that section behind the Bamboo Curtain.

Lake Baikal Region is the Achilles Heel of Russia, but also the sword of Damocles Hanging over Our Heads

July 7, 2022 Source: World and History Hubei Report (also published earlier in August 2020 in 西布军事)

We are often proud of China’s vast territory, but to our north is a country much larger than ours – Russia. Russia is almost twice the size of our country, amounting to more than 17 million square kilometers, making it the largest country in the world. Its comprehensive national strength, rich resources, great strategic depth and war potential make it one of the world’s most powerful countries. Although Russia has not seemed a threat to our country in the complex international situation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have to be on guard, be wary, and be cautious in the face of such a huge power. Russia has in fact caused great disasters to our country throughout history.

Russia and China
Russia’s coat of arms

Russia’s Coat of Arms is a “two-headed eagle”, with one head looking majestically at the European region in the West and the other head looking majestically at the Far East.  This very graphically illustrates Russia’s national policy since the Tsarist period of a geopolitical parallelism — looking both East and West very aggressively. After centuries of brutal expansion, Russia’s territory grew very large. This vast territory gives Russia unparalleled strategic resources, but at the same time made defense very difficult. With one end of Russia in the West and the other in the Far East, it extended over 6,000 kilometers from east to west. The links between the two ends are fragile and extremely vulnerable to severance. In particular, the Baikal region, which connects the two ends, is Russia’s “Achilles Heel”.

The European and Far Eastern parts of Russia

After the Industrial Revolution, railroads became an important means of transportation. During the Franco-Prussian War, the value of railroads was made clear by Prussia, which relied on an efficient railroad network for rapid troop build-up and maneuvering. While the French emperor had only gathered some 200,000 men, the German General Mauch had already brought in half a million troops by rail. Due to the huge advantage in strength, Prussia easily defeated France.

The Trans-Siberian Railway

Tsarist Russia too naturally realized the strategic value of railroad.  During the Second Opium War, Tsarist Russia took advantage of the opportunity to forcibly occupy the outer portion of  northeastern China and coveted our three eastern provinces. At the same time, Japan, after  the Meiji Restoration, steadily gained strength and threatened the Russian Far East. In order to digest the northeastern part of the country and to counteract Japan, Tsarist Russia started to build the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Baikal Lake via Kazan, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk, and then to Vladivostok via Ulan-Ude, Chita and Buri. Through the Trans-Siberian Railway, Tsarist Russia could quickly transport its troops deployed in Europe to the Far East, thus removing the disadvantage that Tsarist Russia had against Japan in the Far East.

The Trans-Siberian Railway and its branch line the “Chinese Eastern Railway”

During the construction of the Siberian Railway, Tsarist Russia also built an important branch line from Chita to Manzhouli, through Hulunbeier, across the Daxingan Mountains to Qiqihar, Harbin, Suifenhe, Shuangchengzi and to Vladivostok. And, in Harbin, there is another branch line to the southwest through Changchun, Shenyang and to Dalian and Lushun. This is the famous “Chinese Eastern Railway“. Through the “Chinese Eastern Railway”, Tsarist Russia was able to quickly deliver its troops to the Eastern provinces, thus putting them under its sphere of influence. Chita, the starting point of the “Chinese Eastern Railway”, became the hub of the Great Siberian Railway and a military town in the Russian Far East.

The Kanto Army’s idea of capturing Lake Baikal and cutting off Soviet Russia

The Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railroad in the world with a length of more than 9,000 kilometers. Called the “Eurasian Continental Bridge” and the “backbone of Russia”, and is of great strategic value. However, the Trans-Siberian Railway is very fragile and can be easily cut off. The railroads, roads and waterways leading from the Far East to Moscow all converge on the Baikal region, and if this area is broken, Russia will be interrupted. Therefore, the Baikal region was a key point of defense for both Tsarist Russia, Soviet Russia, and modern Russia, and military strategists also focused on this region.

During the Second World War, Japan, coveting the Soviet Far East, attempted to threaten the Soviet Union’s post-Baikal region and cut off the Soviet Union. To this end, Japan built a railroad from Baicheng up the Taoer River valley through Alshan to the Harakha River valley, over the Daxinganling and into Hulunbeier, namely the Taonan-Solun railroad. Through this railroad, Japan could quickly deliver its troops to Hulunbeier grassland, cut off the “Chinese Eastern Railway” and aim directly to the railroad hub of Chita, or attack Ulaanbaatar and threaten the central hub of Ulan-Ude, thus militarily threatening the Soviet Union’s throat in the Zabaikalye region. In response to Japan’s aggressive offensive, the Soviet Union also launched corresponding countermeasures. As a result, a major battle broke out between Japan and the Soviet Union at Khalkhin Gol on the banks of the Harakha River at the exit of the Taonan-Solon Railway, with a total of more than 200,000 troops on both sides.

The Siberian Railway played a great role in the late Second World War, and the Zabaikalye region became the stronghold of the Soviet army. The Soviet Union transported millions of troops and equipment from the European theater to the Far East, i.e., via the Trans-Siberian Railway, and assembled them at the railroad junctions of Ulan-Ude and Chita in the Zabaikalye region.

The trade route from the Mongolian plateau to Lake Baikal and Eastern Europe

The Baikal region is not only the hub of Moscow to the Far East, but also the gateway to the north of the country. Lake Baikal is bounded to the west by Sayan Ridge and Hangai Mountains, and to the east by Trans-Hingan Ridge and Kent Mountains. Between the two mountain ranges, the Selenge River and its tributaries cut deep into the mountains and enter Lake Baikal to the north, forming a flat and fertile river valley, which was the main route from the Central Plains to Siberia and Moscow via the Mongolian Plateau and Lake Baikal in ancient times. During the Han Dynasty, the Baikal Lake area was occupied by the Dingli tribe, which was subservient to Xiongnu.

This passage was especially famous in the Qing Dynasty and modern times, when the Baikal Lake area was the base of Tsarist Russia’s trade with China. The trade route to China for the Tsarist merchants was from Moscow eastward across the Ural Mountains to Western Siberia, then eastward across Western Siberia to Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude, and southward up the Selenge River to Kulun (present-day Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia) via the Russian-Chinese border town of Chakotu, and then southward via Erlianhot, Sunit Right Banner, Huade, and Zhangbei. and Zhangbei directly to Zhangjiakou. In the Yongzheng period of the Qing Dynasty, China and Russia signed the Treaty of Chakotu, the border between the two countries, Chakotu was assigned to the Tsarist Russia, and the Chinese side built a new city in China south of the old city street, that is, the present-day Mongolian-Russian border Altai Prague, also called the city of buying and selling.

As Shanxi had the advantage of location, commerce between China and Tsarist Russia was almost completely monopolized by Shanxi merchants, and Jin merchants were often rich in the world. With the development of Sino-Russian trade, Chakotu and Maima China (买卖城) [Note: Literally “Buy and Sell City”] immediately went from unknown small villages to major border trade towns where merchants gathered. After the founding of New China in 1949, with the opening of the China-Mongolia Railway, from the Soviet Union around Lake Baikal town Ulan-Ude to the south through Ulaanbaatar, you can reach China’s border town Erlianhot, and then south to Ulanqab, Datong, this line has become the main freight artery for China’s trade with Mongolia and Russia.

The route of the China-Mongolia Railway

This route has not only important commercial interests, but also an extremely important military role. During World War II, the Soviet Army used the Baikal region southward through Ulaanbaatar and across the desert to Zhangjiakou and Duolun, an important direction of attack against the recalcitrant Japanese army. After the opening of the Sino-Mongolian Railway, the situation on this line became more and more important. In the last century, when China and the Soviet Union were at war, the Soviet Union had a large military force stationed along the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which could have moved southward, so it was difficult for our country to relax. It is also because of the importance of the China-Mongolia Railway that the gauge of the railroad tracks in China were changed during the design and construction phase in order to protect the capital Beijing and the north. Trains from Russia and Mongolia to our country must change their wheels after entering our national border in order to go further south.

The Trans-Siberian Railway and its branch lines to the East

All in all, the Russian Trans-Baikal region is important because it is the hub of Moscow, Russia, to the middle and lower reaches of the Heilongjiang River in the Far East, the three eastern provinces of China, Mongolia and northern China. Russia’s Siberian region is sparsely populated, and most of its population is located along the Trans-Siberian Railway. If a force cuts off the Trans-Siberian Railway in the Lake Baikal region, Russia will not be able to defend both east and west. Both Tsarist Russia, Soviet Russia, and the modern Russian Federation regard it as their choke point and station large numbers of troops there. As early as the late Qing Dynasty, Tsarist Russia strongly supported the independence of Outer Mongolia as a barrier and buffer zone for Baikal region. During World War II, when Chiang Ching-kuo went to the Soviet Union to negotiate over Outer Mongolia, Stalin unabashedly pointed to the map and said to Chiang, “To tell you the truth, the reason I want Outer Mongolia is entirely from a military strategic point of view.” “If a military force were to attack the Soviet Union from Outer Mongolia, Russia would be finished as soon as the Trans-Siberian Railway was cut off.”

The strategic pivotal position of the Baikal region

The Baikal region, while it is the “Achilles Heel” of Russia, is also a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. From the Baikal region, we can cross Mongolia to the south and reach Datong and Beijing; we can also go through the Hulunbeier Steppe and cross the Daxinganling Mountains to reach the heart of the three eastern provinces. At the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union attacked the recalcitrant Japanese Kwantung Army, the Trans-Siberian Railway was the main artery the Soviet Union used to transport the main forces from the European theater to the Far East. The Baikal region was the main base of the Soviet Union. During the last century, when China and the Soviet Union went to war, the Baikal Rim became the core of the Soviet threat to China, with Ulan-Ude as the Soviet Far East Command. The Soviet Union stationed more than a million armored corps in Ulan-Ude and Chita, and had the potential to swoop southward along the China-Mongolia railway line. Then all of China was very tense for fear of what disaster might befall us.


历史

贝加尔湖为俄罗斯的七寸,更是悬于我国头上的达摩克利斯之剑

2020/08/26 来源:西布军事

我们常常以拥有广袤的国土而自豪,但在我国北方,存在一个比我国大得多的国家—俄罗斯。俄罗斯国土面积几乎为我国的两倍,达1700多万平方公里,是世界上疆域最大的国家。其综合国力雄厚,资源丰富,拥有极大的战略纵深与战争潜力,是世界上屈指可数的强大的国家之一。虽然自苏联解体后,在复杂的国际形势下,俄罗斯似乎不会对我国形成威胁,但在面对如此庞然大物时,我们不得不防备之、警惕之、小心翼翼而处之。事实上,在历史上,俄罗斯也确实给我国带来了巨大的灾难。

俄罗斯和中国

俄罗斯和中国

俄罗斯国徽

俄罗斯的国徽为 “双头鹰”,其一个头雄视西方的欧洲地区,另外一个头雄视远东地区,非常形象地诠释了俄罗斯自沙俄时期以来,在地缘政治中东西并重,并带有很强的侵略性的国家政策。经过数世纪的野蛮扩张后,俄罗斯的国土面积已经非常广袤。广袤的国土给俄罗斯带来了无与伦比的战略资源,同时也给俄罗斯带来非常严峻的国防挑战。俄罗斯一头在西方,另外一头在远东,东西长达6000余公里,两头之间的联系是很脆弱的,极易被切断。其中,尤其是连接两头的环贝加尔湖区,为俄罗斯的“七寸”。

俄罗斯欧洲部分和远东部分

在工业革命后,铁路逐渐成为重要的交通方式。普法战争期间,铁路的价值被普鲁士发挥的淋漓尽致,普鲁士依靠高效的铁路网络实现了兵力快速集结与机动。当法国皇帝才集中起二十来万人马时,德国的毛奇将军已用铁路运来了五十万大军。由于兵力的巨大优势,普鲁士轻松的击败了法国。

西伯利亚大铁路

铁路的重要战略价值,沙俄自然看在眼里。在第二次鸦片战争中,沙俄趁机强占我国的外东北,并觊觎我东三省。与此同时,日本通过明治维新,国力蒸蒸日上,逐渐对俄远东地区形成威胁。为消化外东北,并和日本抗衡,沙俄开始修由莫斯科往东经喀山、叶卡捷琳堡、新西伯利亚、克拉斯诺亚尔斯克、伊尔库茨克而抵贝加尔湖区,然后在往东经乌兰乌德、赤塔、伯力而达海参崴的西伯利亚大铁路。通过西伯利亚铁路,沙俄便可将其部署于欧洲的兵力,快速的运往远东地区,从而改变远东地区沙俄对日本的劣势。

西伯利亚大铁路和其支线“中东铁路”

在修西伯利亚大铁路时,沙俄还修建了一条重要的支线,即由赤塔到我国的满洲里,经呼伦贝尔市,横穿大兴安岭而到齐齐哈尔、哈尔滨市、绥芬河、双城子而达海参崴。并且,在哈尔滨市又分出一条支线,往西南经长春,沈阳而至大连、旅顺。这就是著名的“中东铁路”。通过“中东铁路”,沙俄能够快速的将兵力投递到东三省境内,从而将东三省置于其势力范围之下。而作为“中东铁路”起点的赤塔,便成了西伯利亚大铁路上的枢纽,为俄远东地区的军事重镇。

关东军设想的攻占贝加尔湖拦腰斩断苏俄的路线

西伯利亚大铁路长达9000余公里,是世界上最长的铁路,被称为是“欧亚大陆桥”,“俄罗斯的脊柱”,具有极其重要的战略价值。但是,西伯利亚铁路却是很脆弱的,极易被切断。而环贝加尔湖区更是兵家必争之地,从远东地区通往莫斯科的铁路、公路、水路均汇集于环贝加尔湖区,若此处一断,则俄罗斯东西中断。因此,无论是沙俄、苏俄还是现代的俄罗斯,贝加尔地区都是其重兵防守的要害,而军事战略家们也多围绕此区做文章。在第二次世界大战中,日本觊觎苏俄远东地区,就企图威胁苏联后贝加尔地区,拦腰斩断苏联。为此,日本修通由白城溯洮儿河谷经阿尔山接哈拉哈河谷,翻越大兴安岭而入呼伦贝尔的铁路,即洮南-索伦铁路。通过此铁路,日本就可将兵力快速投递到呼伦贝尔草原,切断“中东铁路”,直指铁路枢纽赤塔,或者攻乌兰巴托,威胁中枢乌兰乌德,从而在军事上威胁苏联的咽喉后贝加尔地区。对于日本咄咄逼人的攻势,苏联亦展开了相应的反制措施。于是日苏双方在洮南-索伦铁路大兴安岭出口处哈拉哈河畔的诺门罕爆发一场大战,双方投入兵力合计达20余万,战争最后以日军败北告终。

在第二次世界大战后期,西伯利亚铁路发挥了极大的作用,后贝加尔地区为苏军的大本营。苏联将欧洲战场上百万的兵力及装备运往远东地区,即通过西伯利亚大铁路,集结在后贝加尔地区乌兰乌德、赤塔等铁路枢纽。

从蒙古高原通往贝加尔湖及东欧的商道

贝加尔湖区除了是莫斯科通往远东的枢纽,更是通往我国北部的咽喉。贝加尔湖西为萨彦岭、杭爱山,东为外兴安岭、肯特山。在两列山脉之间,色楞格河及其支流深切山体而北入贝加尔湖,形成平坦肥沃的河谷地带,是我国古代由中原地区经蒙古高原、贝加尔湖,而通往西伯利亚以及莫斯科的主要通道,为丝绸之路的重要支线。远在汉代时,贝加尔湖区为臣服于匈奴的丁零部落,霍去病北击匈奴,封狼居胥,汉军兵锋就已达北海(今贝加尔湖)。这条通道在清代及近现代时尤其著名,环贝加尔湖区就是沙俄对华贸易的基地。而沙俄商人通往中国的贸易路线,即由莫斯科往东越乌拉尔山脉抵西西伯利亚,然后往东横穿西西伯利亚到达叶尼塞河流域一带的环贝加尔湖区重镇伊尔库茨克、乌兰乌德,往南溯色楞格河而上,经中俄边贸重镇恰克图而抵库伦(今蒙古国首都乌兰巴托),再往南经二连浩特、苏尼特右旗、化德、张北等地直抵张家口。到了清雍正年间,中俄签订《恰克图条约》,两国划定边境,恰克图划归沙俄,中方则在旧市街以南中国境内别建新城,即今蒙俄边境的阿勒泰布拉格,也叫买卖城。由于山西有地利之便,中国和沙俄的商业几乎完全被山西商人垄断,晋商常富甲天下。随着中俄贸易的发展,恰克图和买卖城由名不见经传的小村落一跃成为商贾云集的边贸重镇。到了新中国成立后,随着中蒙铁路的修通,由苏联环贝加尔湖区重镇乌兰乌德往南经乌兰巴托,就可直抵我国边境重镇二连浩特,然后往南就可到达乌兰察布、大同,此线成为我国同蒙古国、俄罗斯商贸货运的大动脉。

中蒙铁路的路线

这条通道不但具有重要的商贸利益,更加具有极其重要的军事作用。由于此线地势非常平坦开阔,非常适合大规模的装甲集团冲锋,在二战时期,苏军打击负隅顽抗的日军的一个重要的攻击方向,即为由贝加尔地区往南经乌兰巴托,横渡沙漠,直指张家口、多伦一带。在中蒙铁路修通后,此线的形势愈加重要。上个世纪中苏交恶时期,苏联在中蒙铁路沿线驻有大规模的军队,大有南下之势,则我国的就难以安宁。也正是由于中蒙铁路关系如此之重大,在设计施工时,我国为保护首都北京以及北方的国防安全,将我国境内的铁路轨道做有改变。从俄罗斯、蒙古到我国的列车,在进入我国国境线后,就必须更换车轮才能南下。

西伯利亚大铁路及通往东方的各支线

西伯利亚大铁路及通往东方的各支线

总而言之,俄罗斯环贝加尔湖区之所以重要,盖因其为俄罗斯莫斯科通往远东黑龙江中下游、我国东三省及蒙古国和我国华北地区的枢纽。俄罗斯西伯利亚地区人口稀少,绝大部分人口分布在西伯利亚铁路沿线,若有一股力量在环贝加尔湖湖地区拦腰截断西伯利亚大铁路,则俄罗斯就东西不能相顾。无论是沙俄、苏俄,还是现代的俄罗斯联邦,无不视其为咽喉并屯驻重兵。在晚晴时期,沙俄就极力支持外蒙独立,以作为贝加尔地区的屏障和缓冲地带。到了二战时期,蒋经国前往苏联就外蒙问题谈判,斯大林毫不掩饰地指着地图对蒋经国说:“老实告诉你,我之所以要外蒙古,完全是站在军事的战略观点而要这块地方的。”“倘使有一个军事力量从外蒙古向苏联进攻,西伯利亚铁路一被切断,俄国就完了。”

贝加尔湖地区的战略中枢地位

环贝加尔湖区是俄罗斯的“七寸”,但也是悬在我国头上之达摩克利斯之剑。由环贝加尔湖区即可往南横穿蒙古国,直抵大同、北京;也可经呼伦贝尔草原,翻越大兴安岭,直抵我东三省腹心。在二战末期,苏联进攻负隅顽抗的日本关东军,西伯利亚铁路就是苏联将欧洲战场的主力部队运往远东的大动脉,而环贝加尔湖区就是苏联的大本营,苏军将大量的兵团在乌兰乌德、赤塔等地集结。到了上个世纪中苏交恶时期,环贝加尔湖区成为苏联威胁中国的核心,乌兰乌德为苏联远东司令部。苏联以乌兰乌德、赤塔为中心,驻扎百余万规模的装甲兵团,大有沿中蒙铁路线俯冲南下之势,则我国就惶惶不可终日。

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About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated, with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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