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Russian occupation of Crimea: Japanese share the pain of Ukraine

 18-03-2014 10:23 

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based journalist. His work has appeared in the Asahi Shimbun, Bloomberg, Asia Times, Jane's Defence Weekly and The Diplomat, among other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @TakahashiKosuke

- Mr. Takahashi, Russia has attacked Ukraine. Takes away the Ukrainian Crimea to itself. How react today in Japan on occupation of Ukraine?

- As a G7 nation Japan has condemned Russian’s act of aggression repeatedly, supporting the current Ukrainian government.
Most recently, Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida on March 11 told Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the phone that Japan cannot accept a change in the status quo by force. Kishida urged Lavrov to start talks with Ukraine on resolving the Crimean crisis.
Also, the head of the secretariat of Japan's newly established National Security Council, Shotaro Yachi, met Lavrov in Moscow on March 12. Yachi told Lavrov that Russia should talk directly with Ukraine's interim government and stressed the importance of ending the crisis peacefully.

- Russia occupied and territory of Japan. Whether there can be here analogies from Ukraine?

- It is the same in terms of the fact that Russia infringed on both nations’ sovereignty. Actually Japan is the only nation among G7 nations whose national sovereignty has been infringed upon by Russia. We Japanese can share the pain together with Ukraine.

- The president of Russia does not pay attention to the international laws. Whether it is possible to stop it?

- Frankly speaking, it should be very hard for the rest of the world to stop Russia at this moment. Putin calculated every risk in advance.

First, as far as I have talked to Russian diplomats in the past, generally speaking I found they don’t believe the principles of international law strongly. They say that superpowers, especially the US, have resorted to unilateral action against smaller nations many times in the past.

The problem is that we don’t have the world government to punish nations which act against international laws. There are no compulsory measures such as the world police. Russians are realists. They are well aware of this incomplete world system. For them, power talks.

Second, Russian President Putin advocates the revival of Great Russia and the idea of Eurasian Union. For Putin, without Ukraine, he cannot achieve his ambition.

Third, Western industrialized nations, such as Germany and Japan, and Russian have developed closer economic relationships with one another, so it should be very tough for the West to implement economic sanctions on Russia without causing major side effects.

Fourth, the US Obama administration has been very reluctant to strongly intervene in world affairs, such as in Syria and Iran. Putin thinks of Obama as weak-kneed.

Knowing all of these factors above, Putin is adopting a very belligerent stance, I think.

- Mr. Takahashi, can Japan and Ukraine to unite the efforts to stop Russian occupation of their territories?

- Japan and Ukraine can unite to appeal strongly to peoples of the world over Russian’s encroachment of the two nations’ sovereignty, but it should be difficult to stop Russian occupation of their territories. Japan is also in a difficult position now.

Japan has become the world’s top importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident led to shut down all nuclear power stations. Now Japan uses a third of the world’s LNG shipments, with 10 percent of its LNG imports coming from Russia. More than a few experts in Japan believe economic sanctions against Russia will likely have major side effects on the lives of Japanese citizens.

Also, since Japan’s relations with China and South Korea have relations plummeted to the lowest level in the post-war period, for Tokyo better relations with Moscow are needed.

In addition, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also attaches importance to a personal relationship of trust with Putin as they have met five times since they met in April 2013, which marked the first such meeting in the last ten years.

- But the question of the Japanese annexation of territories and Russia is still open?

- The current Ukraine crisis, however, can also give Tokyo a rethinking of its relations with Moscow, at a time when a certain reactionary view on the issue of a peace treaty has appeared in Russia.
This point of view represents since bilateral economic cooperation is under way even without a Japan-Russia peace treaty, such a treaty is unnecessary and there is no need to solve the problems of the ongoing dispute over the Northern Territories (known in Russia as the South Kuril Islands), which both nations claim.
The emergence of this sort of a reactionary approach in Moscow will increase Tokyo’s mistrust toward Russia for sure.

Viktor Kaspruk

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