On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin has addressed his nation, announcing a “special military operation” against Ukraine and has also warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with Russian action would have “results they have never seen.” The attacks which have started during Putin’s speech have been going on for a month. Putin’s war against Ukraine has repercussions in Europe and notably all over the world, Regarding the Sino-Russian relationship, some eyebrows have been raised in China’s regional rival, Japan as much as the United States of America (USA). Within this context, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, following the footsteps of the vast majority of the international community supervene upon Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has declared imposing sanctions on The Central Bank of Russian Federation and has supported the exclusion of Moscow from the international banking system, SWIFT.
In this regard, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), brings under your notice the views of the Fellow of Hudson Institute, Dr Satoru Nagao.
1. How would you characterize the current level of Russian-Japanese relations?
Japan has never wanted Russia to become an ally of China due to its inherent orientation; However, the recent moves of Moscow has unfortunately demonstrated the desire of Russia to become an ally of China. To give an example, in the year 2021, in-kind number warships of Russia and Chinese have jointly encircled Japan in the course of their exercise. Thereof, the impression of the current level of Russian-Japanese relations has not seemed good.
2. The ramifications of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis go far beyond the impact on Europe. It could create a new security threat to Asia as well. How do you analyze the geopolitical and other implications of this conflict over Japanese security?
Looking at it from a larger perspective, Japan is in fact, worried about a new era in which Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the trigger. Over the past 30 years since we have been in the post-Cold War era, the policies regarding the disagreements between the major powers have abstained, on the grounds that they might lead to a nuclear war. However, this is not relevant in the case of Russia. Since 2008, Moscow has been breaking this tradition of post-Cold War eras by its aggression towards countries like Georgia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria, and Libya one by one. Russia is therefore a barrier to reducing the use of military force against other major-power countries worldwide. The Kremlin invasion of Ukraine means other great powers would not hesitate to use military force for their interests. In this atmosphere, Japan has particularly concerned about China’s demeanour towards Taiwan.
3. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he will “persistently continue” negotiations with Moscow on the return of the Northern Territories (four islands in the Southern Ridge). How do you think these factors affect bilateral relations?
Without solving the Northern Territories issue, there is little possibility that Japan and Russia can cooperate deeply. But the meaning of “persistently continue “of Kishia’s saying means that nothing will happen soon.
It is envisaged that a new sea route will open in the future as the ice in the Arctic melts and the new sea route will run along with Japan’s Northern Territories. To secure Sea Lines of Communications, the Northern territories are strategic locations to deploy military forces. Also, like the age of the Cold War, the Sea of Okhotsk was one of the ideal places for Russia to hide nuclear ballistic missile submarines against the US. If Russia will deploy enough number of military forces around the Sea of Okhotsk and exclude any foreign military forces to detect Russian submarines with nuclear missiles in the Sea of Okhotsk, this policy will work. Therefore, the strategic significance of the Northern Territories is increasing.
In addition, Russia is fighting for territories in many places in recent times. Indeed, it is not straightforward for the Japanese to expect that Russia will concede their territory in the Northern Region.
4. What is your opinion about the impact of the Russian Chinese relationship on Japan and regional security?
Division of their military forces against China and Russia at the same time, is a necessity for Japan. This situation demand Japan far bigger cost for their defence. This year, Japan will revise their National Security Strategy. The most crucial status which is affecting Japan’s strategy is the Russia-China-North Korea alliance.
5. Is there any similarity between the Ukraine crisis and the current situation of the Kuril Islands? Could you make a general assessment?
There is one important similarity. The USSR broke the agreement (Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact) and occupied the Northern Territories in 1945. Now, Russia is ignoring international law and changing the status quo by force in Georgia, Crimea, and Ukraine. Russia has not respected rule-based order bottomed on existing international law. The similarity results from the existence of a serious challenge to the law and the international society