Japan needs the engagement of the international community in order to find the solution for their problems with Russia.
“Japan-Russia relations look set for a lull under Prime Minister Kishida. However, there are good reasons to continue economic collaboration with Russia”.
Negotiations over the Kuril Islands are in the dying stages. Russia continues negotiations and dialogue with Japan but with the main goal of gaining economic advantages for itself.
Russia edited its constitution in 2020 and Russians added a new amendment “prohibiting any territorial concessions with the foreign states.” In addition, the government brought new law and according to this new law: citizens supporting to cede Russian territory legally face up to ten years in prison, and this law prevents making any alternative public calls about the Kuril Islands. The Russian constitution declares officially that the federal government has no right to negotiate the handing over of the territorial sovereignty of Russian territory.
Nevertheless, during the soviet past, there had been some hopes and positive expectations in Japan regarding the return of the four islands. Under the Japanese-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956, the USSR promised to hand over two of the islands, Habomai and Shikotan, which account for about 5% of the total area of the Kuril Islands.
The Soviet Union collapsed thirty years ago in 1991 and Russia became a democratic state and it was a historical turning point for the global politics. Nonetheless, the current Russian goverment is more tough compared with the communist government of the Soviet Union. There is one modern Russian proverb among political scientists and this proverb explains to us the logic in Russian – Japanese relationship. President Vladimir Putin always follows the rule ‘what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable.” Certainly, the failure to negotiate with Russia just after the collapse of the Soviet Union is considerably heavy.
Measures and reactions of Japan and the role of China
For Tokyo, the sovereignty issues over the islands are primarily emotionally and politically symbolic. Japanese has the aim to decrease the main pragmatic strategic ties of Russia with China through resolving the territorial issue, signing a peace treaty and actively engaging Russia economically and politically.
Russia is getting closer to China, and both of them feel the press from western powers. Japanese think that Russia and China are trying to provoke the United State alliance by repeating military exercises and fighting together with regard to the Kuril Islands. While Russia and China are improving ties, it is important for Japan to advance with its charm diplomacy and policy with Russia. Tokyo has been expressing hope the U.S. will facilitate a Japanese-Russian rapprochement that could in turn help form a regional Russia-Japanese-U.S. alliance to contain China. Nevertheless, it is clearly against Russia’s basic national interests to become part of any anti-Beijing coalition, while Japan, in turn, has no intention to undermine its long-term alliance with the U.S.
Measures and reactions of Russia
The Russian military elite sees the Kuril Islands including Kunashir and Iturup as a strategically vital asset controlling access to the Sea of Okhotsk in which Russian strategic nuclear ballistic-carrying submarines are deployed on patrol as the most reliable component of the Russian reply nuclear deterrent aimed at the U.S. The loss of sovereignty over any part of the islands that could undermine overall nuclear deterrence is seen as unacceptable by the Russian establishment including Vladimir Putin. Russians were concerned that the United States could establish military facilities in the Kuril Islands once they are handed back to Japan.
It is now time to begin the focus around the economic cooperation in order to receive the compromise from Russia. We should not forget that France and Germany forgive the bloody consequences of their historical wars thanks to the economic development and this analogue may work also in East Asia. For that reason, Japan should work on building a new international strategy, with all resources being devoted toward diplomacy with Russia. The decision should be diplomatic because only diplomacy gives the opportunities to find the honourable peace for both of them.