Thursday, May 02, 2013


MOSCOW, April 29 (Reuters) - Russia and Japan said on Monday they would revive talks on resolving a territorial dispute that has prevented them signing a treaty formally ending their World War Two hostilities, and, wary of China's rising influence, agreed to bolster trade ties. At the two G8 powers' first Moscow summit for 10 years, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had China's economic and political might in mind as they launched a new effort to warm up their relationship. An end to the dispute over four Pacific islands is not in sight, but reviving long-stalled talks is a first step to improving economic cooperation, which both sides say has failed to live up to its potential. "We have agreed to revive talks (on the islands)," Putin told a news conference with Abe after a Kremlin ceremony at which about 20 economic cooperation agreements were signed, but said this did not mean the issue would be resolved "tomorrow". Abe acknowledged the sides were far apart over the islands but hailed the decision to instruct foreign ministers to resume talks as an important move to end an "abnormal" situation. Looking relaxed in talks with Putin in an ornate Kremlin hall, Abe said bilateral trade had grown eightfold in the 10 years since then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held a summit with Putin in Moscow. "Nevertheless, our potential for cooperation has not been opened wide enough," Abe said. Underlining this, the sides failed to clinch any major deals on energy cooperation.... Russia wants to firm up its footing in Asia as it warily watches China's regional influence grow, even though Putin hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at a lavish Kremlin summit only a month ago. Japan is also locked in an islands dispute with China, giving it jitters about its neighbour. Russia and Japan are both members of the Group of Eight rich nations but the scope for improvement in relations has long been restricted by the row over islands known in Russia as the Southern Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories. ."
Alexei Anishchuk, "Japan, Russia agree to revive talks on island dispute." Reuters. 29 April 2013, in
Abe's turn to Moscow can be easily explained by a number of geopolitical and economic reasons. Japan is getting about 10 percent of its oil and gas from Russia, an insurance policy in view of the instability in the Middle East. It also appreciates Russia's sheer physical presence in Northeast Asia, and Moscow's desire to play a more active role in the Asia-Pacific region. Russia shares a 2,700-mile long border with China, and has a vibrant trading relationship with its neighbor. Japan clearly does not want Moscow's Asia policy to be dominated by its relationship with Beijing. Right-wing Japanese politicians even muse about a Japanese-Russia alignment to contain China. Moscow, which only a month ago played host to Chinese President Xi Jinping on his first trip abroad, looks forward to the Japanese prime minister's visit. As a lone great power constantly in search of a balance, Russia seeks to diversify its economic and political relationships as widely as possible, in order to gain more options. After thoroughly defeating Japan in a brief campaign at the end of World War II, Moscow bears no historical grudge against Tokyo. Indeed, Russians, by and large, are if anything friendlier toward the Japanese than the other way round. The dispute over the South Kuril Islands, which the Japanese call their Northern Territories, while occasionally getting noisy, usually at Japan's initiative, is considered to be safely under control, with almost no likelihood of it degenerating into a military confrontation. A resolution of the Russian-Japanese territorial dispute is not on the cards yet, though both sides feel that some kind of a compromise formula has to be hammered out for their relationship to be fully normalized and live up to its potential. China should not expect Russia to build a common front against Japan, based on reciprocal solidarity in both countries' territorial issues with Tokyo. China, however, should not fear the fantasies of Japanese rightists. Russia values its relations with China enough not to allow itself to be swayed in Japan's direction. This stance is unlikely to change as long as Moscow regards Beijing as a good neighbor and bona fide partner. Russia, however, will continue to reemerge as an independent player in the Asia-Pacific region. It will be guided by its national interests, the top of which is domestic development, particularly between the Urals and the Pacific coastline. Moscow will reach out to all relevant players, but will seek a balance in all those relationships. It has sufficient experience and enough common sense not to tilt too much in any particular direction, unless, of course, this is deemed necessary to restore geopolitical and strategic equilibrium."
Dmitri Trenin, "Moscow-Tokyo Anti-China Alliance Not Real." Carnegie Moscow Center. 29 April 2013, in
The news out of Moskva as it relates to the revival of pour parlers between Russia and Japan over Southern Kurile islands is all to the good. Notwithstanding the comments of the usually well-informed Dmitri Trenin about Moskva's underlying intentions. Which appears to be that of endeavoring to employ Japan not so much as an ally but as a sort of ballast in the Far Eastern diplomatic equilibrium. Quelle dommage! It seems obvious to me and has seemed to me for more than twenty years, that by definition in terms of goals and interests, that Japan is Russia's 'natural ally' in the Orient. Unfortunately, except for a short period from 1910 to 1917, Russia and Japan have rarely been on the same diplomatic wavelength. Something which can be blamed on both sides, but certainly in the past forty years, more the doing of Mosvka than Japan. From any machtpolitik point of view, the Kuriles are near to worthless as compared to the possibilities of Japan joining Moskva in a warm embrace on a anti-revisionist, anti-Chinese basis. A diplomatic bloc which by definition would quickly be joined by the other powers in the Orient, once it was constructed. The fact that Grazhdanin Putin, et. al., singularly fail to see this, speaks volumes about the strategic blindness that contemporary Russian policy suffers from.


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