Xinjiang and the Cold War

My article for Cold War History, “To Die on the Steppe: Sino-Soviet-American Relations and the Cold War in Chinese Central Asia, 1944–1952,” received a nice and unexpected write up from the blog of the publisher, Taylor & Francis:

Untold tales of the Cold War: the Russians of Xinjiang and the CIA

MON, MAR 24, 2014 10:12 EST

The Cold War may be over, but incredible stories of the era’s tragedies and intrigues are still emerging. US historian Charles Kraus recalls one such tale – involving a small group of Russians caught in the Cold War crossfire between the USSR and China in Xinjiang, Chinese Central Asia – in the current issue of  Cold War History.

Through archival research and an interview with one of the last survivors, Kraus details how more than 100 ethnic Russians living in Xinjiang in the 1940s came to be involved, at various points, with a Kazakh warlord, the government in Moscow, the Chinese Communist Party, the Goumindang and the CIA. Sealing their fate was their decision to work for Douglas Mackiernan, the first CIA officer to die in the line of duty, to gather intelligence on the Soviet nuclear programme.

This real-life adventure includes shifting allegiances, civil war, espionage, bravery, hardship, nuclear rivalry and, ultimately, tragedy. Fewer than 25 of the Russians involved in Kraus’s study survive their trek on foot and horseback through Central Asia to start new lives in the United States in 1952.

Kraus writes: “Though Xinjiang is far removed from Washington, Moscow, and Beijing, this distance did not stop great power rivalry from creeping into Chinese Central Asia, even at an early stage of the Cold War. The site of an intense competition for resources, information and influence, Xinjiang was of course not the main theater of Cold War, but this does not mean it was unimportant. The interactions between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China in the region furthered mistrust and animosity between the two Cold War camps, making relations all the more acrimonious.”

Kraus’ vivid storytelling also emphasises the devastating effects superpower rivalries have on the lives of individuals.

He writes: “This episode in Xinjiang’s history reveals how ordinary people in the most distant of regions interacted with and were affected by this great political, military, and ideological conflict. Though the trilateral struggle… was short-lived, lasting less than a decade, its social consequences were not so brief.”  Kiprian, the survivor Kraus interviewed, lost most of his friends, and never saw his family or home again.

As the Cold War heats up again in Crimea, the fate of the Russians of Xinjiang recalled in  Cold War History  is more than a compelling read; it’s also a stark warning of what happens to people and countries caught up in the battle between superpowers.

When referencing the article: Please include Cold War History, Charles Kraus, published by Taylor & Francis and the following statement:
* Read the full article online:

For more information please contact:
Kate Reavill, Marketing Co-ordinator, Arts & Humanities Journals

* Read the full article online: 

For more information please contact:

Kate Reavill, Marketing Coordinator, Taylor & Francis Group


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