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Korean War: a prelude to today's conflicts

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - The Korean War armistice agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. The armistice has lasted for 55 years. The two sides have not signed a peace treaty, and the peninsula is still divided in two by the demarcation line, which is probably the only surviving monument to the Cold War.

The catalyst leading to the Korean War occurred in the summer of 1945, when Soviet and American troops arrived in Korea, which at that time was fully occupied by Japan. The peninsula was divided in two at the 38th parallel. South of this line the Japanese surrendered to the Americans, and north of it, to the Red Army.

The Soviet-American treaty signed in December 1945 provided for Korea's temporary administration. It was assumed that the country would remain divided only until the formation of a new government. But the start of the Cold War thwarted this plan. Both Koreas formed their own governments in their respective halves - communist in North Korea under the leadership of Kim Il-sung and anti-communist in the south headed by Syngman Rhee.

Both governments wanted to unite Korea under their own control, and proclaimed as much in the constitutions adopted in 1948.

In 1949, both the Soviet Union and the United States withdrew their troops from Korean territory, but continued supplying their satellites with arms. Also in 1949, Kim Il-sung appealed to the Soviet Union for help in invading South Korea. Moscow turned down his requests because it had little confidence in the North Korean army and because it feared a conflict with the United States.

Nevertheless, North Korean troops started the conflict on June 25, 1950 by launching an offensive in the south. Some historians believe that the offensive was sanctioned by Moscow whereas others consider it solely Kim Il-sung's initiative. Either way, on June 28, 1950 the North Korean troops seized Seoul and established control over 90% of South Korean territory by the middle of August.

For the United States, North Korea's attack was a complete surprise. Several days earlier, Secretary of State Dean Acheson told Congress that a war was unlikely.

On June 25, 1950 the UN Security Council convened a meeting to discuss the Korean issue. The U.S.-suggested resolution was adopted by nine votes. Nobody voted against it. A spokesman for Yugoslavia abstained from voting while Soviet Ambassador Yakov Malik boycotted the meeting on instructions from Moscow because the Security Council refused to recognize Communist China instead of Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government.

Today's analysts consider this step a crude mistake because the Soviet Union could have prevented the adoption of this resolution by vetoing it.

Before long, UN troops, primarily from the United States and the British Commonwealth started arriving at the Pusan bridgehead, the only South-Korean controlled territory. In the fall of 1950, the South Korean army and its western allies launched a counter-offensive under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.

Sea and air superiority and numerical supremacy on land allowed the allies to quickly regain the lost territory and cross the 38th parallel. To prevent the South Koreans and Americans from seizing the entire peninsula, the Soviet Union and China stepped in to help its ally.

By the end of October 1950, Chinese troops led by Marshal Peng Dehuai invaded Korea. They were presented as "Chinese people's volunteers" to avoid an international conflict. MiG-15 fighters from the 64th Soviet Fighter Corps, bearing Chinese identification marks, took part in the first battle in North Korea's air space.

By January 1951, the Chinese and North Korean forces recapture Seoul. In the following months, the two sides were trying to push each other back but with little success. As a result, on April 11, 1951 General MacArthur was replaced with General Ridgeway. By late June 1951, Ridgeway pushed the North Korean army back beyond the 38th parallel, and the war became static. In July 1951 all sides launched peace talks.

Hostilities continued despite the talks. Both sides futilely tried to oust each other and sustained heavy losses. They were waging large-scale air battles. U.S. air force and naval aviation were primarily fighting against the 64th Soviet Corps. Moscow imposed certain restrictions on the actions of Soviet pilots to prevent them from being taken prisoner. They were not allowed to cross the frontline or fly over the sea. Their operations were strictly limited to the air defense of logistic facilities in the rear. However, they coped with their task rather well despite the enemy's almost continuous superiority.

During two and a half years, the 64th Fighter Corps downed more than 1,000 enemy aircraft. It lost 335 MiG-15 fighters and more than 100 pilots. All in all, the UN troops lost more than 3,000 aircraft as against about 900 aircraft of the Chinese, North Korean, and Soviet air forces.

The air war was important but did not lead to anything. By the spring of 1953 it became clear that the cost of victory for either side would be too great. After Stalin's death, the Soviet party leaders opted to end of the war. China and North Korea did not dare continue the war on their own, and on July 27, 1953 the armistice agreement divided the sides at the frontline, which became the demarcation line.

Human loss figures vary. The South is believed to have lost from 1,217,000 to 1,818,000 (killed and wounded), and the North from 1,858,000 to 3,822,000. All in all, 315 Soviet soldiers, including 168 officers, were killed or died from wounds or diseases in Korea.

The Korean War was the first local conflict after WWII, when the superpowers clashed in a conventional battle on a limited territory. It was a prelude to the conflicts which are being waged today.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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