The Struggle For The Islands: What Will Be The Outcome Of Territorial Dispute Between Russia And Japan

The Struggle For The Islands: What Will Be The Outcome Of Territorial Dispute Between Russia And JapanAccording to the results of Putin's visit to Japan in December 2016, Russian media unanimously spoke about the strategic victory, allegedly received by the Russian President during the talks. This and a number of signed memoranda (the volume of possible investments is appreciated in the amount of 2.54 billion dollars) and an agreement on joint economic activities on the territory of the disputed islands, and the possibility in the future to simplify the visa regime between two countries.

The Eastern vector of Russian foreign policy has always played an important role in ensuring national interests of both the Russian Empire, and later – o the Soviet Union, and, in the end, of today's Russia. Russian-Japanese War, active actions in Manchuria, an alliance with China in the era of Mao Zedong, as well as the current "turn to the East" ...

All this testifies to the great role of the East in Moscow’s International Relations. Not surprisingly, that being under Western sanctions, Russia is taking active steps to neutralize their actions and return to the international arena as a global player.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with support from business, media and security services, is trying its best to restore the previous Russia’s position in the world, which was held by the country until 2014.

In this vein, an important role is played not only by the Western vector of foreign policy of Moscow (although with unpredictable tweets of Donald Trump there is no time to get bored), but also by the relationship with the global players in the East.

On the problematic issues of modern Russia's bilateral relations with China a lot has already been said (and it is also about the questionable project "Power of Siberia", and the weakening of Moscow's position in the negotiations with China).

A special attention should be paid to the aspects of bilateral relations between Moscow and Tokyo, taken into account that the Ukrainian national interests are interwoven in this issue as well.

Yes To Cooperation. No To Peace Treaty

Today the basis of Russian-Japanese relations is represented by the Joint Declaration of 1956, which terminated the state of war, made it possible to establish diplomatic relations and defined the border between the two States.

But the experts mention the unresolved territorial issues with respect to the Kuril Islands (Iturup, Shikotan, Kunashir and Habomai, which Tokyo considers its own) as aggravating factors in relations between Russia and Japan.
The Struggle For The Islands: What Will Be The Outcome Of Territorial Dispute Between Russia And Japan

At the current stage of relations, in the period of staying in power of the Democratic Party in Japanese government (2009 -. 2012), Japanese diplomacy has suffered a series of so significant setbacks in the Russian direction, that Tokyo’s politicians almost ceased to hope for the resumption of negotiations on the territorial issue.

After returning of the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Shinzo Abe, a series of visits was held and dozens of documents on economic cooperation were signed, but the annexation of Crimea and inciting of the war in the East of Ukraine noticeably cooled Japanese-Russian relations.

Japan, the only country in Asia, fully supported the anti-Russian sanctions, and has become one of the largest economic donors for Ukraine.

At the same time, the experts note that in spite of this, Tokyo still cherishes the hope to return the "Northern Territories" and is looking for establishing contacts with Moscow in this direction.

The economic component of relations between Russia and Japan – as compared with the regional leaders of the Asia-Pacific region - looks pretty weak. During 2015, the mutual trade turnover nearly scored US $ 20.1 billion, which, in comparison with the year 2014, has decreased by 30%.

Russian export to the country by 83% consists of primary products, while Japan imports high-tech products with high added value.

Understanding the importance of the intensification of economic relations, the search of alternative partner in the relationship with a “difficult” neighbor-China, and obtaining the support of Japan for returning to global politics, Putin held a number of meetings with the Japanese Prime Minister.

2014 – the meeting in Sochi on the "margins" of the APEC forum.

2015 - contacts on the "margins" of the UN General Assembly. Playing on the "sensitive" notes and as if hinting at the possibility of settlement of the territorial issue, Putin has tried to maximize the preferences in response to his actions.
The Struggle For The Islands: What Will Be The Outcome Of Territorial Dispute Between Russia And Japan
In December 2016 he partially obtained success in doing so. The experts of the Moscow Carnegie Center believe that the results of the negotiations, firstly, created the preconditions for Japanese investments to the Kuril Islands, while maintaining sovereignty over the islands by the Russian Federation. Secondly, a number of documents on bilateral economic cooperation was signed, including those with the Russian companies, which are now under the Western sanctions.

Of course, the majority of the signed documents signed are only memorandum, but they make it clear that Japan is ready to develop relations with Russia in exchange for the settlement of the territorial issue.

Since Japanese business is largely focused on the United States (in 2015 the mutual trade turnover amounted to $ 197.5 billion), Japanese are quite pessimistic about the possibility of the return of the lost territories, without having big illusions about this, an attempt of Abe to "flirting" with Putin is a personal initiative of the Japanese Prime Minister.

In their turn, the voters are not happy with such reverence with their northern neighbor. The majority of Japanese have not been satisfied with the results of the meeting, which subsequently had a negative impact on the ratings of the Japanese Prime Minister.

Moreover, more than 54% of Japanese voters negatively assessed the results of the negotiations, while the Japanese news agency “Kyodo Tsushin” reports that only 38.7% approve of the forum results, because, despite the numerous economic agreements, Japanese politician failed to reach consensus on the "northern territories".

With this in mind, a few days after the event Shinzo Abe hastened to assure that in the nearest future he will accelerate the resolution of the territorial dispute and will visit Russia in early 2017.

In this context, Olena Mykal, the expert-orientalist believes that Russia and Japan will not be able to resolve the territorial dispute because in this matter their interests are exactly opposite. Putin stresses that Russia has no territorial disputable issue with Japan. Shinzo Abe insists on the recognition of the existence of disputes and their resolution. This suggests the presence of two "parallel realities" and therefore there is no possibilities for a joint search of potential solutions.

The Struggle For The Islands: What Will Be The Outcome Of Territorial Dispute Between Russia And JapanAs a result, to date, none of the options proposed by each party did not lead to any solution of the problem, or to improving the relations. This is also confirmed by the fact that no joint statement to the press was made as for the results of the December summit “Abe – Putin”.

On the other hand, the key point is the influence of the other countries - the US and China in particular - in the region. US interests in East Asia is to maintain the status quo, to monitor the situation and support of the Japanese loyalty of American policy in the region and in the world.

If we assume hypothetically that Japan and Russia have agreed to the territorial issue, it will improve relations between the two countries. This means that the Kremlin's influence on Tokyo may increase, thereby weakening Washington's position. In its turn, China is interested in increasing its influence in the region. Now Japan and the United States are the obstacle to this aspiration. Probably, the decision on possession of the "northern territories" opens for Russia the "door of opportunities" to become a party and gain a foothold in the regional configuration. This balance of power makes China to reconsider approaches to build on its hegemony in the region, and nobody could say whether this fact will go in China’s favor.

Thus, Japan and Russia once again after the end of World War II, are meeting at the highest level, but it does not make them a step closer to solving the territorial issue in their relationship. According to Elena Mykal, in the current system of international relations, this problem will not be solved, as at the bilateral level “Japan – Russia”, two countries are not ready to talk in one reality, while at the multilateral level, there are other key players - Russia and China - whose interests could be affected in the results of the settlement of the territorial jurisdiction of the Northern territories.

The Military Aspect Of The Problem

In parallel with the political and economic efforts, the country of the Rising Sun continues to modernize and strengthen its self-defense forces. On the one hand, it is gaining force China which becomes the main threat to Japan (including the disputed Senkaku Islands (Diao Yuda)), and the relations with Russia may give an advantage in the course of implementation of its deterrence. On the other hand, Japan hopes to receive support from its strategic ally - the US. And the recent series of unexpected statements of Donald Trump on the Taiwan question, the charges in the direction of Beijing's on the economic activities in the South China Sea are playing into the hands of Tokyo, bringing strife in the rapprochement process between United States and China.

And despite the fact that Japan's Defense White Book - 2015 names as the main security threats the extensions by the North Korea of the "asymmetric military capabilities" as well as China's efforts to ensure its national interests in the region and increase the power of its Armed Forces, on the third place is the increase by Russia defenses’ costs and expansion of the area of activity of its Army and Fleet. The provocation of the Russian aircraft is also annoying: only in 2014, Japanese planes rose into the sky 473 times to catch them.
The Struggle For The Islands: What Will Be The Outcome Of Territorial Dispute Between Russia And Japan

In connection with the military security threats, Tokyo improves and modernizes the land, air and sea components of its self-defense Forces. According to the White Book-2015, American fighters F-35 and F-22, convert-planes MV-22 "Osprey", flying apparatus Global Hawk, missile cruiser and 2 space crafts, equipped with missile defense "Aegis" system, will be placed in Japan. At the same time, military training is based on working out the elements of land forces’ transfer on outlying islands together with the proximal and distal Air Forces’ support. In this regard, a special role is assigned to the troops’ landing using amphibious vehicles, landing crafts and convert-planes. For example, in 2015, they held a joint field exercises with the US Marine Corps’ units ( "Iron Fist"), during which the combined amphibious operations in the water and on the land were trained and worked out. Defense spending, respectively, also went up and reached 4.981 trillion yen in 2015 (41.97 billion. dollars).

On the other hand, this activism has not gone unnoticed by the Russian Defense Ministry, which also decided to "play the muscles." In March 2016, Shoigu announced the plans for the militarization of the disputed islands, and in November the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation placed Division coastal missile complex "Bastion" on the island of Iturup and the division of the coastal missile system "Ball" on Kunashir Island. The mobile missile complex "Bastion" with homing anti-ship missile "Onyx" is designed to protect the sea coast at the distance of more than 600 km long and strike the on-surface ships and land-based radio-goals under intense fire and electronic countermeasures. Ammunition includes up to 36 missiles. The missile has a range of fire-horizon. The complex "Ball" is designed to protect territorial waters, naval bases, coastal infrastructure and coastal anti-airborne defense. It is equipped with anti-ship missile Х-35 (3М24). The range of defeat is 120 km with a missile Х-35Э, and 260 km - with Х-35У missile.

The range of anti complexes encompasses the disputed territories and the northern part of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, which indicates exclusively defensive nature of their use, as the potential targets are beyond the reach of missiles. Given the low probability of a violent seizure of the disputed islands by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, the placing of two missile divisions has more political (for Tokyo and West) and propaganda (for domestic Russian audience) character. Since the missiles do not carry any threat to Japan's national security, the response of the Japanese Foreign Ministry has been sluggish, in the form of the famous "concern."

What Does This All Mean?

Thus, analyzing the current situation we can conclude that the Japanese investments, which allegedly were obtained by Moscow in the form of signed contracts and a "virtual" joint economic activity, so far exist only on paper.

The Struggle For The Islands: What Will Be The Outcome Of Territorial Dispute Between Russia And JapanIn this aspect, experts believe that it is too early to rejoice, since the implementation of these agreements may be delayed indefinitely (as we saw after the pathos of an agreement on "Power of Siberia"). Given the uninviting business climate and weak infrastructure’s development in Russia, we should not expect a quick intensification of joint economic activities. On the other hand, in the issue of economic sanctions Tokyo is focused on Washington, whose foreign policy could also change dramatically. So far, due to the general global uncertainty, reflected in the twitter of Donald Trump, it is too early to make any conclusions. The Director of the Japanese Association for Trade with Russia and the Newly Independent States Kunio Okada came to the conclusion, that Tokyo still managed to obtain from Moscow major political concessions. The mechanism of the joint economic activities means two things. Firstly, it applies to all four islands, not only Shikotan and Habomai. Secondly, by introducing a special regime, Russia basically admits that the Japanese have more rights on these territories than any other foreign country.

With regard to the signing of the peace agreement and the transfer of the four islands of the Kuril chain, taking into account the position of Russia, as well as the geopolitical implications Tokyo possible rapprochement with Moscow for China and the United States, such an outcome is unlikely event.

Yuri Poita, "Vector News"
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