Japan’s Russian Dilemma

TOKYO – For Japanese leaders and citizens, President Vladimir Putin’s brutal annexation of Crimea was an unsurprising return to the normal paradigm of Russian history. Indeed, most Japanese regard the move as having been determined by some expansionist gene in Russia’s political DNA, rather than by Putin himself or the specifics of the Ukraine crisis.

Japan is particularly concerned with Russian expansionism, because it is the only G-7 country that currently has a territorial dispute with Russia, which has occupied its Northern Territories since the waning days of World War II. That occupation began between August 28 and September 5, 1945, when the Soviet Union hurriedly nullified the existing Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Treaty and invaded not only Japanese-occupied Manchuria, but also southern Sakhalin Island and the ancient Japanese territories of Etorofu Island, Kunashiri Island, Shikotan Island, and the Habomai Islands.

Concerned that America’s development and use of atomic weapons against Japan would deprive the Soviet Union of any territorial gains in the east, Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade. But Japan, having already endured the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had accepted the Potsdam Declaration on August 14, meaning that the war was already over when the Red Army marched in.

Since then, these islands have been controlled by either the Soviet Union or its successor state, Russia. And, as elsewhere in Russia, their residents have been impoverished by consistently incompetent and corrupt government, whether run by Communists or today’s crony capitalists.