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The Shtykov Report on the First Session of the Soviet-American Joint Commission in Seoul, Korea (March 20-May 6, 1946)

The “Shtykov Report,” prepared for Soviet Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, purports to explain why the Soviet-American Joint Commission failed to achieve a democratic Korean provisional government in 1946.

The Soviet-American Joint Commission opened in Seoul three months after the December 1945 Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow – the first opportunity to address Korea’s political future in detail – by which time  the glow of allied unity and bonhomie on display at the July 1945 Potsdam Conference among its key participants, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin , had largely dissipated.

The Joint Commission, the most intensive and extensive Soviet-American political negotiation conducted during the Cold War period, comprised more than 60 meetings in two separate sessions during 1946-1947 with the goal of creating a Democratic Korean Provisional Government. It was also unique in bringing together members of the Soviet and American military commands as negotiators in their own right rather than seasoned diplomats who played largely advisory roles.

The “Shtykov Report,” prepared by Colonel-General Terenti Shtykov, the chief Soviet delegate and ranking military personage on Korean issues, for Soviet Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov and the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, purports to explain why the effort failed.[1] Drafted following the adjournment of first session of the Joint Commission sine die on May 8,1946, but before the resumption of talks in a second session on May 20, 1947, it analyzes the situation and developments on the ground from a Soviet perspective, in particular, efforts to implement the Moscow Agreement on Korea.

During the 1990’s, I obtained copies of the “Shytkov Report” along with related documents on Soviet policy and strategy on Korea betweeen1945-1947 from the Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation (AVP RF) which I have made available through the Wilson Center’s Digital Archive.

In the 27-page report on the work of the Joint Commission, Shtykov laid the blame (wrongly, in my opinion) for the breakdown squarely on Korea’s rightist parties and social organizations, asserting that their opposition to trusteeship was the root cause of the Commission’s failure. In this regard, Soviet insistence that support for trusteeship was a pre-requisite for consultation thereby conflating the two was based on a misreading of the Moscow Agreement itself.

Initially, Koreans of all political stripes protested against the Moscow Agreement (which endorsed a trusteeship for Korea) as exchanging one master (Japan) for two (the US and the Soviet Union.) Subsequently, however, while the Soviets pressured leftist political parties to support trusteeship in furtherance of the goal of creating a sovereign and independent Korea, the Right, led by Syngman Rhee and Kim Koo, refused to fall in line. This gave the Soviets license to weaponize opposition to trusteeship as a violation of the Moscow Agreement and to turn opposition into a political straitjacket.  

By contrast, US Secretary of State Byrnes took a more flexible position stating in a radio interview that “trusteeship might not be necessary if a Korean government could be formed in another way.” Byrnes was implying that the Soviet Union, not the US, favored trusteeship and opposed Korean independence, and his comments put the former on the defensive. Simultaneously, General Hodge, the US occupation commander in the south, publicly weighed in against trusteeship from the start as impractical given the Korean desire for immediate independence.

In adopting divergent political positions following the December 1945 Moscow meeting, the two powers clashed repeatedly over the relevance of trusteeship to the Joint Commission negotiations. The Soviets advanced the bogus argument that political parties and social organizations were required to support trusteeship, characterizing it as indispensable and likening it to the “holy grail;” those expressing opposition were deemed ineligible to be consulted either in the creation of or participation in a provisional government. The crux of the Soviet argument was that Koreans could not both support the Moscow Agreement and oppose trusteeship. 

In effect, Shtykov’s argument relied on a leap of logic, inasmuch as Stage 1 of the Commission’s deliberations (with the focus on the creation of a Provisional Korean Democratic Government) drew from on Para 2 of the Moscow Agreement in which trusteeship was not even mentioned. Ironically, during protracted deliberations in the Joint Commission, the two sides reached a workable compromise agreement on eligibility for consultation with the Commission and future participation in a provisional government. (Although the Soviets subsequently backtracked, insisting that while political parties and social organizations which had previously spoken out against trusteeship could be consulted if they signed the declaration below, representatives of those political parties who had compromised themselves by speaking out against trusteeship were disqualified from consultation.)

This compromise agreement, denoted Communique No. 5,  required Korean political parties and social organizations to support the Moscow decision, the work of the Joint Commission and most importantly, trusteeship. It stated that:

 “The Joint Commission will consult with Korean democratic parties and public organizations which are actually democratic in their goals and methods” and that would agree to the text of the following statement:

“We…declare that we will support the goals of the Moscow decision concerning Korea as it is presented in paragraph 1, namely the restoration of Korea as an independent country, the creation of conditions of the development of the country on democratic foundations, and the fastest possible liquidation of the long Japanese occupation of Korea. We will further support the decision of the Joint Commission to implement paragraph 2 of the decision regarding the formation of a Provisional Korean Democratic Government. Furthermore, we will assist the Joint Commission in its development with the participation of the Provisional Korean Democratic government of proposals regarding the measures envisaged by paragraph 3 of the Moscow decision [on trusteeship defined as “self-help and assistance”.]”

While leftist political parties were quick to sign the above declaration, making them eligible for consultation, right-wing parties, which Shtykov termed “the Democratic chamber,” demurred.

Finally, Shtykov’s report glosses over the impromptu remark by Kim Kyu-sik, a prominent Rightist leader, that triggered the collapse of the first session of the Joint Commission. Kim, who publicly stated that “after the creation of a provisional government, Koreans could express their opposition to trusteeship” was applauded by Rightist political parties and endorsed by Gen. Hodge, much to Soviet chagrin. Moscow then broke off negotiations and ordered the Soviet delegation to immediately return to Pyongyang, ushering in a yearlong hiatus in negotiations.

Stage 2 of the work of the Joint Commission based on Para 3 of the Moscow Agreement addressed trusteeship in the context of a newly formed provisional government, but only in passing as a work in progress designated as “self-help and assistance.” In this regard, the Commission was assigned the lead role in soliciting the opinion of the provisional government before interfacing with the trusteeship powers on a future Korean political structure following consultation with Korean political parties and social organizations:

“The proposals of the Joint Commission shall be submitted following consultation with the provisional Korean government, for the joint consideration of the Governments of the United States, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Kingdom and China for working out of an agreement concerning a four-power trusteeship for a period of up to five years.”

With progressive (leftist) forces in the ascendancy in Korea’s highly polarized political landscape, Moscow would be in the driver’s seat in determining the details of a trusteeship arrangement for Korea, and ultimately, political control of the Korean peninsula. 

Overall, the Shtykov report is reflective of a Soviet mindset that skewered US objectives and motivations. Although the Soviets believed that the extreme Right was a “stalking horse” for the Americans, in reality the latter were working behind the scenes trying to persuade the rightists – albeit unsuccessfully – to cooperate with the Commission while toning down opposition to trusteeship and the Soviet Union. Wildly off the mark, Shtykov’s report further alleges that “the U.S. tried to distort the substance of the Moscow Decision and frustrate its observation by the American delegation and American miliary command while encouraging Korean reactionaries to oppose the Moscow Decision.” 

The overriding Soviet objective in Korea was to facilitate the creation of a “friendly” government so that in the future the Korea peninsula would not become the nexus of a threat to the Soviet Far Eastern Maritime province as in the past, this time from Korean reactionaries. While the Shtykov report (unfairly) warns against the danger of a provisional government acting as “a rubber stamp for the reactionaries, as an advantageous strategic point for American militarists and a profitable place for American capitalists to invest, in harming our interest and strengthening the position of the Americans,” there is no evidence in US planning documents to substantiate the above charge. For the Americans, the higher priority was to prevent Soviet domination of the peninsula, even to the exclusion of an independent Korean state.


[1] Shtykov was the face of Soviet policy in Korea and the military counterpart of Soviet diplomat Jacob Malik, whose prescient memo “On the Question of a United Government in Korea” for Soviet foreign minister Molotov set the stage for negotiations in Soviet-American in the Joint Commission. Whether Shtykov undertook the report on his own volition or at Moscow’s behest is unknown.

About the Author

John Barry Kotch

John Barry Kotch is a political historian focusing on the geopolitics of the Korean peninsula and Korean-American relations.  He is the author of numerous articles and Op Ed’s on the above subjects and well as co-editor of and contributor to Korea Confronts the Future (Marshall Cavendish.) He is currently researching Soviet-American negotiations for a Korean provisional government in post WWII Korea. Dr. Kotch holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University.

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