Putin's Japan visit: A Check up on Sovereignty


Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin's two-day visit to Japan begins, which the United States is extremely dissatisfied with.

A Peace Treaty

The visit will be held within the framework of work on the signing of a peace treaty between Japan and Russia. Tokyo earlier believed that without the transfer of the four Kuril islands, the signing is not possible, but Moscow emphasized that any action should be taken only after the juridical consolidation of good-neighborly relations.

Russia stresses that its aim in itself is not merely concluding a peace treaty. However, the signing of this document for Japan, by contrast, is very important.

According to the tradition that plays an important role in Japanese society, the ruler should fulfill his destined purpose, and the present time is the era of the reign of Akihito - Heisei which, translated from Japanese, means “peace”.

Especially now when it is clearly coming to an end, concluding the peace treaty with Russia is important for Japan. This was indirectly stated by Shinzo Abe during his visit to Russia, calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin a new era by signing a contract on territories.

The evolution of views

Tokyo continues to claim the four islands of the Lesser Kuril Ridge: Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai. However, Japanese society is increasingly putting forward the view that Tokyo should reduce its claim to two islands, Shikotan and Habomai, which was provided by the text of the peace treaty in 1956.

Besides, the Russian Foreign Ministry also appeals to this treaty, however, reserving that for 60 years in international politics there had been serious changes requiring that certain amendments be made to the text of 1956.

This leads to the conclusion that the two islands, the transfer of which would not change the status of the Sea of ​​Okhotsk as an inland sea of Russia, would still gradually come under the influence of Japan, but not now.

But when?

Before his visit, Vladimir Putin made an important statement which was taken note of in Tokyo. Many Japanese media ahead of the visit released headlines citing the Russian leader: “Russia and Japan do not have any problems”. However, in reality, the situation is quite different. “We have no territorial problems with Japan; it’s Japan that believes that it has territorial problems, but we are ready to discuss this”, Putin said, adding that Russia would not go for any more or less serious territorial concessions.

In addition, Putin stressed that documents can only be signed with a sovereign country, hinting at Japan's support for the anti-Russian sanctions. “Russian-Japanese relations are unlikely to be related to the events in Syria or Ukraine”, he said, which was almost immediately followed by Tokyo’s provision of about $2 billion in military assistance to Ukraine on Washington’s order. 

The US role

The US opposes the settlement of the border dispute from 1956, when relations between the USSR and Japan were restored. Even then, Washington gave an official protest note to Tokyo which promised an indefinite occupation of Okinawa and Ryukyu Archipelago if the claims on Kunashir and Iturup are removed. It is worth noting that near the Etorofu Island there is a strait which is extremely convenient for submarines. This is another very good reason to not raise the issue of transferring Iturup and Kunashir.