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Why didn't Japan annex Siberia during the Russian Civil War? (Short Animated Documentary)

3 minutes 31 seconds

Speaker 1

00:00:00 - 00:00:27

After the Russian government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in late 1917, the Entente sought to intervene. This saw soldiers from those nations enter Russia across numerous fronts. This was in order to secure resources, bolster their allies and prevent either from falling into German hands. In Russia's far east, Japan led a major intervention which saw it invade Siberia and occupy all of these lands. And given Japan's antagonistic history with Russia and its hatred of all things communist, why didn't it use the opportunity to take Siberia for itself?

Speaker 1

00:00:27 - 00:00:55

So, when Russia left the First World War in 1917, the Entente were quite concerned. The largest army had just left and soon afterwards its new leaders had handed the Central Powers all of this, and so France, Britain and later the United States opted to intervene. At first Japan was very reluctant to get involved with intervening in Russia, And this was because if things went wrong it may have found itself caught up in a major land war near its borders. And as such the Japanese government chose to sit it out. That was until the Entente decided to go in without them.

Speaker 1

00:00:55 - 00:01:21

Britain, Canada and the United States wanted to secure Vladivostok and so made plans to occupy the region around it. Japan didn't want to be left out and so quickly agreed to join the invasion in 1918. It was asked to provide about 10, 000 men for the operation, which they did, followed by a further 60, 000 men, just to be sure. Such a large force concerned the British and the Americans who felt that maybe Japan wasn't just looking to secure a port for trade. The plan had just been to occupy these lands to secure the port.

Speaker 1

00:01:21 - 00:01:51

However, Japan kept on pushing and by 1920 they were up to here. The government had also settled tens of thousands of Japanese civilians in the region and gave mineral rights to Japanese companies, which signalled that maybe they were there to stay. Once their allies had been evacuated and it became clear that the Bolsheviks were going to win, the Entente withdrew, thus leaving the region to the Communists. Well at least they had thought, because the Japanese chose to stay and those in the army were pushing the government to either annex the region or set up a permanent puppet state to act as a buffer against the communists. Japanese politicians did not agree with the army though.

Speaker 1

00:01:51 - 00:02:31

The problem was that the rest of the Entente were very uneasy about Japan grabbing so much land. The United States especially was angered by the expansion of an empire which it had a mixed history with, especially given that further expansion in Siberia could potentially put Japan right next door to Alaska. And also, even with the Japanese plantations, most of the people who lived in the region didn't want the Japanese to stay, and given Japan's support for Siberia's puppet rulers, who, frankly, weren't the nicest, the people in the region just wanted them gone. Another issue was that with the rest of the Entente gone, Japan had to face the Bolsheviks alone, and the Bolsheviks were now able to bring a lot more force to bear on Siberia. This meant that if Japan wanted to keep the region, it would need to commit hundreds of thousands of men and lots of money and resources to do so.

Speaker 1

00:02:31 - 00:03:00

Furthermore, to make things more complicated, the Japanese government didn't trust the army. There were concerns that generals were lying about casualty rates and what the Bolsheviks could actually do to retake Siberia. And since they weren't 100% sure, they weren't going to risk it. And so, the Japanese government agreed to withdraw and left Siberia in 1922. And in the end, this was something that the Japanese weren't too upset about, because its somewhat light intervention in the First World War had seen the country gain Germany's colonies in the region for very little effort, meaning that by the 1920s Japan had still come out ahead.

Speaker 1

00:03:15 - 00:03:00

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