The Kuril Islands dispute – a legacy of the Second World War, has been at the root of cold relations between Moscow and Tokyo. The Suga administration in Japan had already signalled that it is ready to resolve the historical dispute. Russia and Japan should not be fighting against each other over a decades-old dispute, rather they should be fighting together against a common enemy – China. Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin has also joined the chorus and signalled Moscow’s intent to bury the dispute and sign what could possibly be a landmark peace treaty between Japan and Russia.
But Moscow has one condition – Japan must keep the United States away from Russian zones of influence, which include areas close to the Kuril Islands. To the same effect, Vladimir Putin reiterated that “security-related issues” are hindering the peace treaty negotiations, alluding to the possibility that the United States, Japan’s security ally, would deploy missiles on Japanese territory and threaten Russia. According to Nikkei Asia, Putin said Japan has not provided a clear answer on that security concern so far.
If this little hiccup is overcome, which would require some effort on the part of Japan, a historic peace treaty can be signed between Tokyo and Moscow – sending shockwaves both in Beijing as well as Washington D.C. Putin said despite a constitutional amendment which makes discussions on the part of Russia regarding ceding any of its territories practically impossible, “I don’t think that the peace treaty talks must be suspended.” He added, “Both Russia and Japan share a strategic interest in concluding a peace treaty…We are ready to continue negotiations.”
Although former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had also tried working out a peace deal with Russia, his efforts did not bear fruits. This is because during the Abe administration, Japan’s relationship with Russia and the dispute over the islands – which Russia calls southern Kuril and Japan calls Northern Territories – were always coupled together. As Shinzo Abe’s attempts to utilize his understanding with Putin to solve the issue failed, these disputed islands became the very reason why attempts to improve bilateral relations between the two countries failed too.
However, there is now a growing acceptance in Asia and the Indo Pacific that China is the most potent threat faced by all countries. As such, all far-thinking and strategically sound nations must take immediate steps to cull the emerging threat that is China. It is for this very reason that Japan and Taiwan have agreed to set aside their differences over the Senkaku Islands and work together to address the Chinese threat.
Most recently, for instance, Japan announced a massive collaboration with the Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturer TSMC. Japan is also all set to pass an annual defence report next month which will for the first-time mention Taiwan and the need to secure it. Furthermore, Tokyo has been rallying globally to bring the attention of world powers to the situation in the Taiwan Strait, which is why the United States and European Union recently passed historic joint statements alongside Japan underlining the need to ensure a free, safe and stable Taiwan Strait.
Japan and South Korea have also been working together to address the China threat, despite their cultural and historical differences. As such, it is only very reasonable for Russia and Japan to also shed their differences and disputes and join the anti-China coalition in the region.
Russia has woken up to the China threat due to the paper dragon asserting itself in Russia’s Far East and staking claim over the city of Vladivostok. Additionally, Chinese attempts to eat into exclusive Russian spheres of influence have not gone down well with Moscow. In fact, Putin has been taking a number of strategic steps to ensure Beijing’s nefarious plans are foiled. And then, it has already been reported by TFI how China is trying to make Russia a second fiddle to its global ambitions by stealing Russian defence technology and even becoming a roadblock in Putin’s vaccine diplomacy.
In the context of the growing acceptance that China is an emerging threat for Russia, coupled with the fact that the United States remains an active enemy for Moscow, Putin is trying to kill two birds with the same stone here. By extending an olive branch to Japan, Putin is offering Tokyo a chance to make peace with Moscow while also helping it cut down on its dependence on the U.S. A Russia-Japan alliance aimed against the paper dragon, for all practical reasons, will be the death knell of China.
Read more: Japan wants to leave its differences with Russia aside and join hands against common enemy China
For Russia, the Kuril Islands are very important. Because the strait between Kunashir and Iturup does not freeze over in winter, control of the islands ensures Russia has year-round access to the Pacific Ocean for its Pacific Fleet of warships and submarines based in Vladivostok. Also, it is only this archipelago which can give the Russian Pacific Fleet access to the Pacific Ocean, since other straits are under the control of foreign countries or underdeveloped.
By signing a peace treaty with Japan, Russia’s year-round entry into the Indo Pacific will be guaranteed, and that would itself be a nightmare for China. So, it is not as if Japan has no incentive to sign the peace treaty with Moscow. In fact, in the present context, it has become a necessity for Tokyo. Russia’s only condition is that the U.S. be kept sufficiently away from the Islands – a step which Japan will be well advised to take.
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