The short-term war between the USSR and China broke out 40 years ago. The events took place on Zhenbao Island, also known as Damanskii Island, on Ussuri River. Chinese military men gunned down a group of Soviet border guards on March 2, 1969.
The USSR and China were at war in the spring of 1969. The friendship between the two communist regimes was replaced with artillery bombardments and hand-to-hand combats. It is worthy of note that the Soviet Union had no problems with China before Joseph Stalin’s death.
Nikita Khrushchev held the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in 1956 and unmasked the evil of Stalinism. China’s Mao Zedong qualified it as a personal challenge. The situation became even more complicated after Moscow’s decision to normalize relations with capitalist countries after the Caribbean crisis. The Chinese leadership believed that the Soviet Union had betrayed the ideology of Lenin and Stalin.
The crisis of the Soviet-Chinese relations became especially visible at the end of the 1950s. Mao condemned the USSR for suppressing the riots in Poland and Hungary in 1956. However, Moscow still hoped to keep its friendship with Beijing and supported China’s action against Taiwan in 1958. China attacked India a year later, and the USSR could not but condemn China.
The crisis intensified in 1960, when the USSR suddenly recalled its specialists from China. He specialists assisted in the development of China’s economy and armed forces. Mao was also concerned about the situation in the West of China, where Soviet troops were present after the suppression of the Muslim riot in 1934. The Chinese leader suspected the USSR of the intention to take those territories away. When Khrushchev was estranged from power during the 1960s, the situation continued to worsen. Placards threatening to smash “Brezhnev’s dog head” could be spotted everywhere in China.
As for Damanskii Island, the roots of the conflict began in the 19th century. Foreign countries, including the Russian Empire, used China’s weakness for their own profit. In 1860, the frontier along Ussuri River was marked on the Chinese bank. All the islands on the river, including Damanskii Island, became the territory of Russia.
Mao did not think about it before 1956, when he asked the USSR to revise the unfair treaties. The Soviet administration was ready for a compromise, albeit with the islands adjacent to the Chinese bank of the river. However, China was much more demanding. Mao asked for 40,000 square kilometers of the Soviet territory – Moscow did not even want to think about it.
The Chinese began to transgress the border with the Soviet Union on a regular basis since 1956. Thousands of such incidents had happened by March of 1969. The escalation of the border war occurred during the climax of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969.
On March 2, 1969, a group of Chinese troops ambushed Soviet border guards on Zhenbao Island. The Soviets suffered 31 dead and 14 wounded. They retaliated on March 15 by bombarding Chinese troop concentrations on the Chinese bank of the Ussuri and by storming Zhenbao Island. The Soviet forces claimed that the Chinese suffered 800 casualties while the Soviets only had 60 killed or wounded. The Chinese claim to have suffered only a few casualties, far less than Soviet losses.
The USSR subsequently delivered the island to China in September 1969.