Putin honours Soviet troops killed liberating China from Japan

The gesture during Putin’s state visit to China honors the estimated 12,000 Red Army troops killed in battles across northeastern China in August and September 1945 that helped defeat Japan’s military forces in the closing days of WWII.

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid solemn tribute to Soviet soldiers who died fighting to liberate parts of China from Japanese occupation during World War II, laying wreaths at a memorial monument in the northeastern city of Harbin.

The gesture during Putin’s state visit to China took place at the Memorial Complex Commemorating the War of Resistance Against Japan. It honours the estimated 12,000 Red Army troops killed in battles across northeastern China in August and September 1945 that helped defeat Japan’s military forces in the closing days of WWII.

Walking solemnly, Putin placed large wreaths of red and white flowers at the base of the monument’s central obelisk. He paused for a moment of silence, standing somberly alongside senior Russian and Chinese officials.

“We will always remember the heroes who liberated China and the rest of Asia from the horrors of militarism and racism,” Putin said in remarks after laying the wreaths. “Their sacrifice was not in vain and helped build today’s world order respecting the sovereign equality of all nations.”

The Soviet military offensive in 1945 known as the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation was a decisive factor in Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II. In just over two weeks, the Soviet Red Army inflicted over 700,000 casualties on Japan’s Kwantung Army in Manchuria and northeastern China.

Beijing has sought to highlight the Soviet Union’s role in World War II, especially compared to the West’s much more limited combat involvement in defeating Japan’s forces in China. Russia under Putin has eagerly cultivated such narratives of joint sacrifice and struggle.

By visiting the memorial, Putin aimed to reaffirm the deep historical ties between Russia and China heading into talks covering their modern-day “no limits” strategic partnership. The highly symbolic move formed part of efforts by both Moscow and Beijing to demonstrate the strength of their alliance in defiance of Western opposition.

Chinese state media prominently featured Putin’s wreath-laying as Xi Jinping welcomed the Russian leader as a great power “friend.” The two nations have deepened cooperation across economic, military and political spheres as their rivalry with the United States and its allies.

Still, the memorial ceremony briefly rekindled memories of a more complex history preceding the current Sino-Russian rapprochement. Soviet forces occupied parts of northeastern China for years after WWII, in what some in China saw as lingering imperialist control before relations chilled during the Cold War split.

In his remarks, Putin portrayed the sacrifices of the war as helping create a new, more just international order “respecting the sovereign equality of all nations” – an implicit rebuke of current U.S. global leadership and condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.