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Japanese pro-NATO stance harms Tokyo-Moscow dialogue

Japan, NATO, Russia, China, North Korea


Japanese pro-NATO stance harms Tokyo-Moscow dialogue

Tokyo appears to be paying the consequences for its own destabilizing pro-NATO attitudes. Writes Lucas Leiroz

Amid worldwide tensions, diplomatic frictions between Russia and Japan continue to increase. The crisis in Ukraine is hampering bilateral diplomacy and preventing a peace agreement on the Kuril Islands, which is a historic goal for both states, from being achieved. Indeed, Tokyo appears to be paying the consequences for its own destabilizing pro-NATO attitudes.

Japan disputes sovereignty over the Kuril Islands, an archipelago belonging to Russia in the Pacific. While there is no imminent risk of a military escalation in the dispute, there is a fear of more serious tensions emerging in the medium and long term, given Japan’s growing military alignment with the US geopolitical project. As Tokyo remains with a US satellite posture in the Asia-Pacific region, greater the security risks posed to non-aligned governments in the region such as Russia, China and North Korea. In the Russian case, recent Japanese pro-Kiev enthusiasm has been of particular concern.

Japan has not only severely condemned the Russian Special Operation in Ukraine but has also been striving to maintain a kind of anti-Moscow mediator stance. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, for example, has personally

advised his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to adopt an entirely pro-Kiev position, revoking the neutrality currently advocated by India.

This type of attitude, in addition to being impolite, is extremely problematic because it tries to pressure India to choose a side between Russia (a country with which it has historical ties that date back to Soviet times) and the anti-China military bloc in the Pacific, QUAD, in which it cooperates with Japan in security measures against Beijing. Historically, India has been characterized by a sovereigntist posture, seeking to guarantee its own interests in every possible way, which allows it to be at the same time an ally of the US against China and a military and commercial partner of Russia, for example. Of course, Washington demands more than that and expects New Delhi at some point to adopt a posture of automatic alignment to the West. And apparently Japan is willing to act in parallel to achieve this American goal – using the Ukrainian conflict as an excuse for the Indian government to sanction Moscow.

This issue directly interfered in the dispute over the Kuril Islands. Since 2018, Russia and Japan have been cooperating to have a peace agreement ratified, pacifying both countries’ views on the Islands. The archipelago has been part of Russia since the end of World War II, but there was never an official treaty pacifying the topic, which was expected to happen soon, considering the progress of negotiations in recent years. Now, however, Japan’s destabilizing attitudes have prompted Moscow to sanction the country by canceling negotiations and delaying the peace deal.

Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov commented on the case saying: “The Russian side, under the current conditions, does not intend to continue negotiations with Japan on the peace treaty as it is impossible to discuss the signing of a fundamental document on bilateral relations with a state that takes openly unfriendly positions and seeks to harm the interests of our country (…) Given the obvious unfriendly nature of the unilateral restrictions imposed by Japan against Russia in connection with the situation in Ukraine, the following measures are being taken. The Russian side is withdrawing from the dialogue with Japan on establishing joint economic activities in the southern Kuril islands”.

In response to the Japanese adoption of all Western anti-Moscow sanctions, in addition to stopping negotiations on the islands, the Russian government also blocked Japan’s status as a sectoral dialogue partner in the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. All visas for Japanese citizens to visit the Kuril archipelago were also cancelled. As well known, sanctioning other countries is not a conventional attitude in Russian international praxis, which shows that the Japanese attitude has been seen as a serious diplomatic affront – a true act of hostility that demanded an equivalent response.

Obviously, Japan has nothing to gain from this kind of attitude. It is not interesting for any country that aspires to be a regional power to want to interfere in matters that concern the zone of ​​influence of another regional power. In other words, there is nothing that makes it convenient for Tokyo to interfere in Russian-Ukrainian relations, simply because this matter belongs to a strategic environment other than the Japanese. Instead of trying to change the Indian stance, Japan should fully adopt it, maintaining neutrality in all matters that do not concern Tokyo’s strategic space, as the main Asian regional powers did. By condemning Russia, Japan once again shows that it is willing to abdicate any role as a regional power just to fully follow all American plans.

In addition, the country loses heavily from the interruption in negotiations, as the archipelago already belongs to Russia. It is Tokyo that demands a change of status in the current situation, not Moscow. The Russian government is not willing to abdicate sovereignty, but it was interested in negotiating a peace agreement that would pacify bilateral understanding, minimally serving some Japanese interests. Now, not even that will be done. And, once again, Tokyo will be damaged for maintaining a totally pro-Washington stance without receiving anything in exchange.

Lucas Leiroz, researcher in Social Sciences at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; geopolitical consultant.

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Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on BLiTZ

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