View of Japan and Russia after
Russo-Japanese War in 1905
Japan and Russia remain technically at war because a peace treaty ending World War II was never signed. Japan and the Soviet Union normalized relations in 1956 without signing a peace treaty. As of 2008 Russia and Japan still had not signed a peace treaty because of the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands.

Russia and Japanese are interested in setting up pipelines which would help bring Russian oil and gas to Japan and upgrading the TransSiberian Railway to move Japanese goods to Europe, both of which Russia would profit from.

Russia and Japan have reduced the military personnel they have facing each other and the navies and coast guards of the two countries routinely cooperate with one another.

In a meeting in November 2005, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to cooperate on a wide range issues including fighting terrorism and strengthening economic, trade and security relations but made no progress resolving their territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands.

In February 2008, a Russian bomber entered Japanese airspace off the southern part of Izu island.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Japan-Russia Relations Wikipedia ; Japanese Government on apan-Russia Relations ; BBC on the Kuril Island Dispute ;Japan, China and Russia’s Oil ; Russo-Japanese War Russo-Japanese War Research Society ; Treaty of Portsmouth Text ; Library of Congress Article ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia


Good Websites and Sources on Foreign Affairs : Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and ; Paper on Development of Japanese International Relations ; Wikipedia article on Foreign Policy of Japan Wikipedia ; Foreign Policy Magazine on the New Hatoyama Government ; Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies ;The World and Japan Database Project ;Japan in the World (last updated in 2003) ; Book: “Japan’s International Relations: Politics, Economics and Security“

Think Tanks and Research Groups: Japan Policy Research Institute ; The Japan Forum on International Relations ; Japan Watch, Commentary on Political and Economic Issues ; Japanese Institute of Global Communications ; Japan Analysis and Research Through Internet Information ; Documents Related to Postwar Politics and International Relations ; Foreign Aid Organizations: Japan and the IMF ; World Bank (click countries at the top or do a search) ;Japan International Cooperation Agency ;

Russian Oil and Gas and Japan

Japan is looking to Russia for the future for its energy needs. Oil rigs near Japan could supply Japan with 250,000 barrels of oil a day. There are also large deposits in Siberia that could be directed towards Japan. There are also concerns. Russia has been aggressive and uncompromising in sales of gas to Europe.

The first shipment of Sakhalin-2 gas arrived in Japan in April 2009. It takes three to four days to ship LNG from Sakhalin, considerably less time than from the Middle East.

About 60 percent of the gas from Sakhalin 2 is earmarked for Japan with the remainder going to te United States and South Korea. Sakhalin 2 gas will account for 7 percent of Japan’s annual gas imports an reduce its dependance on the Middle East for energy. The plan is to sell Japan five million tons of liquified gas a year for 24 years, starting in 2009.

Mitsui is negotiating with Gazprom to develop some of the worlds largest gas fields in eastern Siberia and the Barents Sea.

Japan also wants to get some more of Russia’s Siberian oil. The shipping cost for Russian oil is about a third of the $1.50 a barrel it spends for shipping Middle East oil.

In December 2010, Japan and Russia agreed to set up an LNG plant in Vladivostok and build pipelines to the gas fields at Sakhalin island and Chayanda gas field northwest of Vladivostok. The plant is scheduled to begin operation in 2017 and produce more than 5 million tons of LNG a year. In the deal the Japanese get Russian natural gas and the Russians get Japanese technology. The deal is imperative for Japan which needs stable, guaranteed natural gas supplies in the future as supplies from Indonesia, traditionally its main supplier dry up.

There are hopes that a deal over oil and gas between Russian and Japan might also lead the countries to a settlement over the Kuril Island dispute which has hampered relationships between the countries since the end of World War II.

See Energy, Trade

Russia Becoming a Major Source of Energy for Japan and the Far East

Russia has been expanding into the Japanese energy market in recent years. Russia accounted for 4.3 per cent of Japan's gas imports in 2009, but this percentage doubled to 8.6 per cent in 2010. Russia also provided 7 per cent of Japan's crude oil imports in 2010. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 28, 2012]

In January 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Republic of Sakha, also known as Yakutia, in eastern Siberia is the coldest inhabited area on Earth, with the mercury sometimes dropping to minus 50 deg C. It also is home to the gigantic Chayanda gas field, located within the taiga biome of coniferous forests. The field has an estimated 1.24 trillion cubic metres of recoverable gas reserves, equal to 13 years of Japan's imports of natural gas.

A project got under way in 2012 to lay a 3,000-kilometer pipeline from the Chayanda field to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. "When the pipeline is completed, we'll be able to meet any supply requirements for gas from Japan, China and South Korea," Vladimir Vasilyev, deputy executive director of a subsidiary of state-run gas corporation Gazprom, said proudly.

In preparation for the full-scale start of gas exports from Siberia to Asian countries, a Japan-Russia joint project is under way to construct a liquefied natural gas plant in Vladivostok. Following feasibility studies scheduled to be completed this month, work will begin on basic design of the plant, with an eye to beginning operations around 2020. A senior Gazprom official said the plant will "serve as an LNG supply center for not only Japan but all of Asia".

Construction of the huge pipeline extending to Vladivostok from the gas field is a national project promoted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as an embodiment of his Asian strategy. Putin is considered certain to win Russia's upcoming presidential election in March, returning him to his former post.

Putin will try to maintain economic growth, an indispensable element in achieving a stable administration. So there is a strong possibility he will shift the focus of his diplomacy to Asia, a growth center of the world. The best weapon in this regard is natural resources. "It sounds like an interesting idea," Putin reportedly said last August when he was briefed by an executive of the country's oil and gas industry about a plan to build a pipeline linking Sakhalin in the Russian Far East with Japan, where there were concerns about energy shortages in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Joining Russian projects would provide a good chance for Japan to acquire resources and development rights, but there is also the danger that its energy security will be influenced by Russia. Many in Japan have a strong aversion to relying too much on Russia, as the two countries have long been at odds over four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido. According to diplomatic sources, opinions are divided on the matter within the Japanese government, with some favouring more cooperation with Russia to break away from its heavy reliance on the Middle East. Others feel Japan should not rely on Russia for more than 15 percent of its energy imports. Hence Japan's stance on the matter has not been decided.

Dispute Between Russia and Japan Over the Kuril Islands

There are 30 islands and major islets in the Kuril Islands. The Japanese claim the southern Kuril Islands, which includes Shikotan, Iturup, the Habomais and Kunashir. Kunashir is only 13 miles from Hokkaido. These islands of make up four of the five Kuril islands that inhabited.

The Kuril Islands are home to 19,000 people. They have given the Soviets access to the straits connecting Russian waters and the Pacific Ocean and possession of some of the world's richest fishing grounds. They are also rich in gold and silver and other minerals.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Kuril Islands suffered from frequent power blackouts, and fuel shortages in the cold winter. Some times the lights and heat remained off until a Japanese ship showed up with emergency supplies. After a 1994 earthquake, Japanese rebuilt the destroyed power plant and new modern medical center. These days things are better for Russians in the Kuril Islands as they are making money from fish.

Many of the residents if the Kuril Islands feel neglected by Moscow and some wouldn’t mind if the islands were turned over to the Japanese. One Russian resident told the Los Angeles Times, "When the Japanese left, there were flowers growing along the river that they had planted. Now all this beauty has turned into dumps and garbage sites.”

History of the Kuril Islands

Known to the Russians as the southern Kurils and the Japanese as the Northern Territories, the islands of Etorofu, Kanashiri, Shikiotatan and the Habomai group originally belonged to Japan in accordance with a treaty signed between czarist Russia and the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1856.

The 1856 treaty established the Japanese-Russian border between the islands of Ituruo and Urup. In 1875, Russia gave Japan its Kuril Islands in exchange for southern Sakhalin, giving Russian all of Sakhalin Island. After the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, Japan reclaimed its Sakhalin territory.

The islands of Etorofu, Kanashiri, Shikiotatan and the Habomai group were seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II. The Russians consider the islands and fish-rich waters around them as the spoils of water. The Russians have said Soviet troops honorably "liberated" the Kuril Islands even though Japan had already surrendered and the liberated citizens were all deported.

Soviet workers were moved to the Kuril Islands first to work Japanese fish factories and later to make the islands into a full scale fishing base. By 1948 all the original residents had been deported. Many were given only 24 hours to pack their things and board barge-like boats. By 1949, 17,000 Japanese had been were expelled from the Kuril, mostly the southern islands of Shikotan, Iturup, the Habomais and Kunashir.

In 1956, when ties between Japan and the Soviet Union were normalized, Moscow offered to give two of the islands back and discuss the future of the two other islands. But Japan refused on the grounds that all four islands were theirs and it was not a matter of negotiation. Since then there have been numerous shooting incidents involving Russian patrols and Japanese fishing boats.

In 1973, Brezhnev told Japan there was no dispute over the Kurils. In 2000, there were 17,000 Russian fishermen and cannery workers living on the four southern Kuril islands claimed by Japan.

Kuril Islands, Fishing and Visiting by Japanese

The Kuril Islands boast rich fisheries, with salmon, flounder, tuna, shrimp, clams, crab, kelp and sea urchins. A third of Russia's fish catch comes from the greater island region. The catch from the Kurils is worth over $1 billion a year.

Japanese fishermen who fish in waters off the islands do so at a high risk. Dozens of Japanese fisherman have been jailed for poaching and broaching Russian territorial waters. Russian border-patrol ships have injured fishermen and shot at and damaged Japanese vessels accused of fishing in Russia-claimed waters off the Kuril Islands.

According to a 1991 agreement, Japanese who lived on the islands before they were taken over by the Russians — or relatives of these Japanese — are allowed to return to honor their dead relatives.

In January 2009, Russia demanded that a Japanese delivering humanitarian supplies to the disputed northern islands needed to submit immigration cards. Japan said this action was in violation of an agreement between Russian and Japan on the islands and halted the humanitarian aid to the islands. there concerns that Russia might scrap its so-called visaless visits to disputed islands by Japanese national such as those who had family members’ graves on the islands. In May 2009, Russian dropped the “papers rule.” Around the same time the Japanese government promised to give Russia around $40 million to help it strip nuclear submarines docked in the Russian Far East.

Discussions on the Kuril Islands

In the 1990s, Russian President Boris Yeltsin has hinted that Russia might be willing to return the Kuril Islands in exchange for billions of dollars of aid and investment. Ultranationalist, however, vehemently oppose any such plan. Meeting between the prime ministers of Japan and Russia in 2000 failed to make any progress on the territorial dispute over the Kurils.

In December 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested turning over the two smaller Kuril Islands to Japan as was suggested in the past. That suggestion was very unpopular in Russia. Some Russians fear if the Kuril islands are given to Japan then the Finns might demand Karelai and the Germans might lay claim to Kaliningard and open a pandora’s box to other claims of Russian territory.

The Japanese feel the Russians should turn over the Kuril Islands the same way the United States did with Okinawa. In January 2005, the Russians quietly turned over to China an island in the Amur River between Russia and China. Some think this could provide a model for the transfer of the Kuril islands to Japan.

In December 2005, Russia approved a plan to develop the Kuril islands. A month earlier a Russian Orthodox church was erected on uninhabited Suisho island, about seven kilometers from Hokkaido. The Japanese regarded the church as a provocative move.

In a meeting in November 2005, Koizumi and Putin made no progress resolving their territorial dispute over the islands. In December 2006, Russia rejected a proposal from Japan to divide the Kuril islands equally between Russia and Japan. In July 2008, after taking office, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia and Japan might be able to reach an agreement on the disputed islands.

Russian nationalist strongly oppose giving the islands back and with the Russian economy doing much better now than it did in the past there is less incentive for Russia to cooperate with Japan.

In February 2008, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Sakhalin Island, not far from the disputed islands north of Japan. It was the first time the leader of the two countries met in a part of Russia that was once Japanese territory.

Russia Steps Up Its Claims on the Kuril Islands

In December 2010 Medvedev said that all the Kuril islands are “our land.” In May 2011 the Russian military announced it was going to deploy anti-ship cruise missiles and mobile missile launchers on two of ths disputed islands. In March 2011 when reports of this first emerged Japanese nationalists burned a Russian flag outside the Russian Embassy in Tokyo.

Japan used to have some leverage over the Russians when Russia was struggling to get on its feet after the break up of the Soviet Union but now Russia is much better off economically as a result of high price for natural resources and is able to develop the disputed island and make money from them and doesn’t really need anything from Japan that it can’t get on the open market.

In February 2011, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied a report that Chinese and Russian companies had agreed to start a joint venture in islands that are disputed by Russia and Japan. Kyodo News, a Japanese news agency, had reported that the companies intended to farm sea cucumbers, a delicacy among Chinese, on one of four islands near the northeast coast of Hokkaido, Japan. Russia has reportedly invited enterprises from other countries to invest in businesses there, but so far there has been no third-party investment. “The issue regarding the four northern islands is a bilateral issue between Russia and Japan, and we hope the two sides will properly handle the issue through talks,” said Ma Zhaoxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to official Chinese news. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, February 17, 2011]

Medvedev visits the Kuril Islands in 2010 and 2012

In November 2010, Russian President Medvedev visited the disputed Kuril islands claimed by Japan. During the visit Medvedev visited a geothermal plant and made a point of mentioning that the cell phones the islanders used were not made in Japan . Two months earlier he said the islands are “a very important region for our country.” He was the first Russian leader to visit the islands. The Japanese government had earlier warned Medvedev not to make the trip. Afterwards a formal complaint was lodged with the Russian ambassador to Japan in Tokyo.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan later said the move was an “unforgivable outrage.” Medvedev responded to that by saying Russia would beef up its military forces in the region and reject offers of economic cooperation by Japan. “The Kuril island are Russian territory under the absolute sovereignty of our country,” Medvedev said. Many analysts said the purpose of the trip to the Kurils was mainly to prop up his image at home, where his popularity was waning and he faced increased competition from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

It was suggested in the Japanese press that Moscow probably wanted to demonstrate to people at home and overseas that Russia stood by its claim to the islands and that because Russia's oil and natural gas development projects in Sakhalin in the Russian Far East were proceeding relatively smoothly Moscow didn’t need Japan's assistance in developing the four islands.

In July 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashiri, one of the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, despite Tokyo's implicit calls for restraint, according to Russian media reports. This is Medvedev's second trip to the northern territories, after he visited Kunashiri in November 2010 as president, becoming the first Kremlin leader to set foot on any of the islands. The latest visit is believed to be aimed at playing up Russia's effective control over the four islands and countering Japan's decades-old claim to them. [Source: Jiji Press, July 4, 2012]

Medvedev arrived in Kunashiri on a plane from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in the far eastern region of Sakhalin, according to the reports. Accompanied by a few Cabinet ministers, he is expected to take a firsthand look at local industrial facilities.

The week before, in response to Medvedev's reported plans to visit the islands, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said a visit to any of the four islands by a senior Russian government official would conflict with Japan's position on the territorial issue.

The four islands were captured by Soviet troops in 1945 in the closing days of World War II. The dispute over the islands--Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets--has been the sorest spot in relations between Japan and Russia and has prevented them from concluding a peace treaty to bring a formal end to their wartime hostilities.

Japanese Fishing Boats and Russian Bombers

Russian border-patrol ships have injured fishermen and shot at and damaged Japanese vessels accused of fishing in Russia-claimed waters off the Kuril Islands. Between the end of World War II and 2004, 1,330 Japanese fishing boats were captured by Russian patrol boars. In these incidents there has been only one fatality, in 1956.

In August 2006, a Russian Border Coast Guard patrol ship opened fire on a Japanese crabbing vessel, killing a fishermen, near Kalgarajima island,”part of the disputed Russian-controlled Kuril Islands territory. The captain and two crew members on the Japanese boat were taken into custody by the Russians. According to the Russians the Japanese were warned with flares and told to stop. The Russians said they only deciding to open fire — with machine guns from an inflatable boat — because the vessel tried to escape. Crew members taken into custody were freed a after a couple weeks. The captain was detained for seven weeks and released.

In June 2007, Russia seized a Japanese fishing boat that had permission to fish in Russian waters because it was carrying more fish than it was allowed and an expensive kind of salmon was falsely listed as a cheaper kind.

In December 2007, four Japanese fishing boats were seized off Kunashira Island in the Kuril Islands. The crew members were released a couple of months later

In January 2010, a Russian attack helicopter fired on two Japanese fishing vessels accused of illegally entering Russian waters near disputed Kunashiri island. A total of 20 bullet marks were found in the fishing vessels but none of the 15 crew members were hurt. The Russians said they fired on the ships after issuing warning shots and having their orders to fishing boats to stop for an inspection ignored.

Russian Military Activity Around Japan

Russia has been stepping up its military activities in the Far East, including in seas near Japanese territories. In late September 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, Russian Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers conducted cruise-missile exercises on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Also in September, the Russian Pacific Fleet, the headquarters of which is in Vladivostok, moved 24 ships to the peninsula via the Soya Strait and conducted a major exercise in which about 10,000 troops participated. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 1, 2011]

In early September, On Sept. 8, two Russian strategic bombers flew around the Japanese archipelago. During their suspected reconnaissance flight, the two bombers went very close to intruding into Japan's airspace, and even performed midair refueling to the west of the northern territories, four Japanese islands occupied by Russia. Analysts told the Yomiuri Shimbun the bombers' flight was probably meant as a provocation to observe how the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, launched six days earlier, would respond.

Image Source: Visualizing Culture, MIT Education

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2020

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