Manchurian Russians, Part 1

A poorly understood curiosity in the West is the presence of Russians in Japanese uniform, often referred to as “Japan’s White Soldiers.” What isn’t often acknowledged, or investigated, are exactly how deep the political and military ties between the Russian emigres and their East Asian neighbors go. Though by and large most of the early 20th century’s movement of Russians throughout Asia was a result of their civil war against the communists, the military landscape in Asia has been pockmarked with advisors and instructors, adventurers and refugees of Russian extraction prior to the 1917 revolution.

The purpose of this article is to setup the background of those White Russians involved with the Empires of Japan and Manchukuo. The first entity to study is the Bureau of White Russian Migrants in the Manchurian Empire (Бюро по делам российских эмигрантов в Маньчжурской империи, or БРЭМ). This secretariat, as the name implies, functioned as a liaison and representative for Manchuria’s growing Russian population which by 1934 had already exceeded 100,000 immigrants and Manchurian born. The organization worked on preserving and expanding the property of Manchurian-Russians and aided in defining the legal status of White Russian immigrants.

Members of the Secretariat and Russian Fascist Party at a Harbin banquet celebrating the group’s founding, December 1934. First row, third from the right is Shun Akikusa. Graduate of the Nakano School’s first class and instrumental to the formation of Russian military units in the Manchurian armed forces.

The organization cooperated closely with the Manchurian government in order to strengthen relations between the Russian population, coordinate with Japan’s Kwantung Army stationed in Manchuria, acting as a bulwark against Soviet activity in the area, promoting anti-Soviet propaganda as well as gathering intelligence on the Soviets and local communists.

The secretariat operated a large public library, touted as being the largest in East Asia. The organization also published magazines and newspapers for the Russian population and for the various Asiatic groups in Manchuria. Various public works were also made by the group such as the “Monument for the Fallen Heroes of the Fight Against the Comintern.”

Monument to the Fallen Heroes of the Fight Against the Comintern (Памятник героям, павшим в борьбе с Коминтерном) Completed in 1941 at Cathedral Square in Harbin, it was destroyed in 1945 by the Soviets and a monument to fallen Soviet soldiers erected in its place.

The organization also funded various Russian military academies throughout Manchuria (and funneled monies to the Russian academies in North China as well).

Cadets in formation at a Harbin Russian military academy.

Manchuria in the first half of the century could be referred to as “melting pot” with its extensive mixture of native Manchu, Korean, Mongolian, Japanese, Han Chinese who had settled prior to the 1930’s conflict or part of the influx of war refugees, likewise with the Russians and the other Chinese minorities that made their way to the region for a chance at a better life. Understand that a significant Russian presence existed before Manchukuo’s sponsored founding, and that presence grew under the patronage of both the governments of Manchuria and Japan. A bureau was created to facilitate coordination between the three groups, an entente providing essential mutual assistance to each party given that both Manchuria and Japan bordered the Soviet Empire, and the desire for the White Russians to protect their vulnerable community from the threat of communist agents.

Next article will explore a selection of Russian military organizations.

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