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2014年8月18日 (月)

北方領土演習 ロシアの挑発は看過できない

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Provocative Russian military games in northern territories unforgivable
北方領土演習 ロシアの挑発は看過できない

Nothing other than an act of provocation has taken place in the Russian-held northern territories, the biggest of the issues pending between Tokyo and Moscow, and we categorically oppose the Russian action.

Russia has carried out military exercises with about 1,000 soldiers taking part on the islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu off Hokkaido, and the Kuril Islands.

Many attack helicopters and military vehicles were reportedly involved in the war exercises. Full-fledged war games in the northern territories are said to be the first since July 2010.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has criticized the exercises as “totally unacceptable,” while the Foreign Ministry has lodged a strict protest with Russia’s charges d’affaires ad interim in Tokyo. These responses are undoubtably reasonable.

The Soviet Union illegally seized the four islands off eastern Hokkaido, which are an inherent part of Japan’s territory, in 1945 immediately after World War II. They have been illegally held ever since. Russia’s unilateral action of holding military exercises in the disputed areas—the focal point in the long-standing territorial negotiations between the two countries—will have a profound, negative impact on trust in the bilateral relations.

Problematic in particular is the fact that Russia issued a statement on Wednesday that rejected Japan’s protest against the military maneuvers, saying, Russia “can choose by itself where to hold military exercises within its own territory.” Russia had taken no account of Japan’s demand in advance that the exercises be canceled.

During the exercises, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a visit to the Crimean Peninsula in the southern part of Ukraine. This makes us suspicious that the military drills this time may have been designed to stress Moscow’s stance never to budge even an inch on territorial issues as was the case with Crimea, which Russia annexed forcibly in March.

Strategic diplomacy needed

A machine-gun and artillery division comprising about 3,500 soldiers has been stationed on Kunashiri and Etorofu islands, and it has been modernizing its equipment in recent years. This is part of the “Russification” attempts in the northern territories. Japan must work tenaciously to prod Russia into using self-restraint over the matter.

Also notable is the possibility that a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, which Moscow will purchase from France, will be deployed to Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, during a meeting with his French counterpart at the end of July, urged France to cancel the sale of the amphibious assault vessel. The government should continue such diplomatic efforts.

Russia, for its part, has reacted adversely to Japan’s support for anti-Russia sanctions by the United States and European countries over the Ukrainian situation.

Following Japan’s decision on Aug. 5 to pursue a set of additional sanctions against Russia, including a freeze on the assets in Japan of Russian government officials and others, Russia took the countermeasure of postponing a consultative meeting of foreign vice ministerial officials that was scheduled toward the end of this month.

Moscow, however, has exempted Japan from a ban on farm product and fisheries imports, targeting only the United States and Europe. This has been deemed a tactic presumably aimed at disrupting ties between Japan and the United States and European nations.

Because of the military exercises this time, further stagnation of Tokyo-Moscow relations is most likely inevitable. The prospects for realizing a visit to Japan by Putin this coming autumn, which the two countries have agreed upon, have become even slimmer.

It is very important for Japan not to waver in the face of Russia’s attempt to put this country off balance, but rather to maintain the stance of keeping cooperative relations with the United States and European countries.

The government must engage in strategic diplomacy to never allow Russia’s infringement on any country’s territorial sovereignty or attempts to change the status quo by force.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 17, 2014)


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