The Russian-Koreans became the first Soviet nationality deported in their entirety to internal exile in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Today is the 68th anniversary of the decree initiating this ethnic cleansing. On 21 August 1937, the Soviet Council of Peoples Commissariats (SNK) and Central Committe of the Communist Party passed resolution 1428-326ss. This decree carried the title "On the Exile of the Korean Population from Border Districts of the Far East Territory." Joseph Stalin and his close associate Vyacheslav Molotov personally signed this document. This order authorized the forced relocation of nearly 75,000 ethnic Koreans from the Soviet Far East to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. On 8 September 1937, the SNK passed resolution 1539-354ss titled "On Resettleing the Koreans." This second decree expanded the area to be cleansed of Koreans to include the entire Soviet Far East. By 25 October 1937, the NKVD had deported over 171,000 ethnic Koreans from this region to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Officially only 700 Koreans remained in the Soviet Far East. The NKVD arrested and deported another 19,000 ethnic Chinese from the region at the same time. The result was to make the Soviet Far East an almost completely White and Slavic inhabited territory.
The Russian-Koreans or Koryo Saram as they refer to themselves came under administrative exile and NKVD surveillance in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. They also endured substandard material conditions due to a lack of proper provisions of housing, food and medicine by the local authorities. This deprivation led to thousands of deaths. Some calculations place the number excess deaths among the Russian-Koreans as a result of the deportations at nearly 30,000 or over a sixth of the population.
The Soviet government officially justified the deportation by pointing to the infiltration of the Korean population in the USSR by ethnic Koreans working as spies and saboteurs for the Japanese. Many Korean families had members on both sides of the Soviet-Manchurian border and frequent border crossings made inserting agents into the USSR easy. In point of fact Japanese intelligence did indeed operate in the Soviet Far East and did make use of a small number of ethnic Koreans and Chinese for this purpose. By forcibly removing all ethnic Koreans and Chinese from the Soviet Far East the Stalin regime made it impossible to hide such spies among the local population. After the deportations any Asian caught in the Soviet Far East would physically stick out as being a foreigner and hence a presumed spy. The espionage charge, however, was only the final catalyst in a longer process.
The Soviet regime had found it difficult to integrate the Koreans into the Soviet system. Their culture had roots and links outside of Soviet control. Hence they could never be made into a fully Soviet nationality. The foundation of their history lay in Korea not the USSR. Their concentrated presence on the Soviet border and preservation of an independent culture presented a potential threat of allowing anti-Soviet elements to enter the USSR. The Soviet government had hoped during the 1920s and early 1930s that the cultural autonomy and economic achievements of the Koryo Saram would inspire pro-Soviet uprisings in Korea. By 1937, the Stalin regime instead feared that Korean guerrillas and political activists fleeing Japanese rule to the Soviet Far East would contaminate the local Korean population with bourgeois nationalist sentiments.
The insufficient land available for Korean farmers in the Soviet Far East combined with racist attitudes by local Russians led to the creation of class of landless Korean renters in conflict with Slavs. The creation of an aggrieved and impoverished class of Koreans in the Soviet Far East made the threat of a center for bourgeois nationalist opposition arising among the population much greater. The Soviet policy of promoting non-Russian nationalities in local administrations further magnified this potential. The Posets Korean national district and an additional 105 Korean village Soviets in the Far East provided a Korean piedmont that could be exploited by local and emigre Koreans towards this aim. The Korean communities in the USSR formed an extension of the Korean population in Korea and Manchuria. Initially the Soviets hoped to promote socialist revolution in Korea by pointing to the success of the Koryo Saram. The porus border between the two states, however, threatened to Asianize the Soviet Far East and the Russian Koreans rather than Sovietize Korea.
By dispersing the Russian-Koreans to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan the Soviet regime prevented the emergence of a concentration of nationalist Koreans using local Soviet institutions to push for genuine autonomy and closer ties to their homeland. Such closer ties would probably include the use of Soviet territory as a platform to attack the Japanese Empire. A move that could very well provoke unwanted retaliation by the Japanese. The removal of the Koreans to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan ended the fuzzy demographic lines between the USSR and the Japanese Empire. A clear demarcation between the White Slavic Soviet Far East and the Asian areas of the Japanese Empire now clearly existed. The deportations allowed the Soviets to clearly define and seal this border as a defensive measure against influences from across the Manchurian and Korean borders.
Much of the same reasoning underwrote later Soviet deportations of other extra-territorial nationalities. These groups included the Russian-Germans, Russian-Greeks and Russian-Finns. The Stalin regime thought that their historical ties outside the USSR could be exploited by their ethnic kinsmen abroad to promote real political autonomy. Hence in some of the most brutal preventive measures in world history, the Stalin regime forcibly dispersed these nationalities across Soviet Asia to ensure the security of its borders.