Center for Strategic Assessment and forecasts

Autonomous non-profit organization

Home / Politics and Geopolitics / The future of Russia and the world: estimates and projections / Articles
The Kuril Islands: the "soft" delivery
Material posted: Pankratenko Igor N.Publication date: 20-12-2016
Talk about Vladimir Putin's visit to Japan is necessary to Preface that's the sort of observation that a characteristic feature of the current foreign policy of the Kremlin is the maximum closeness of the population. Moreover, the Russian government seeks to prevent any serious public debate on foreign policy issues.

A pseudo pseudoanalytic on television "talk shows" are, by and large, to vdalblivanie into the public consciousness three simple tenets:

  • first, the policy of Russia in the international arena — the only correct and are supported by all "men of goodwill";
  • secondly, the vast majority of foreign countries is committed to cooperation with Moscow, but it is hampered by Washington and certain secret anti-Russian forces;
  • and finally, thirdly, but not least. We, the citizens, do not have the information that the President has. Therefore, it is not for us to criticize his foreign policy, in the end is unpatriotic and playing into the hands of our geopolitical opponents.

As a result, the development of the Russian policy as a whole in the international arena and in relations with individual countries have been usurped by a narrow circle of persons, who are not only able to articulate the interests of the country and in different regions of the world, but absolutely incompetent in the specifics of international relations. And close to the government experts have long been turned into a subservient intellectual, famously knows how to please, but to tremble at the knees are afraid to offer. As a result, the gaps "concepts and strategies" (recall the fate of "soft power in the post-Soviet space" and "pivot to the East"), gross errors and regular embarrassments. However, and here I found out — you can always blame yesterday's "friends" that they treacherously "stabbed in the back".

In short, withdrawing its foreign policy from the zone of public discussion, part of the Russian ruling elite settled in a world of illusions, are totally inadequate to perceiving the international situation and its foreign partners. And another learned how to use it, solving their parochial interests. In the Japanese Vladimir Putin's the diagnosis — inadequate perception of the world and greed to the detriment of national interests of Russia — could not be manifested clearly.


Official media and experts close to the Kremlin, on the one hand trying to present Putin's trip as yet another "victory," and with another — to avoid an unpleasant conversation about the Kuril Islands, focus public attention on two aspects:

First: signed during the visit, "a large package of economic documents, although it is necessary to carefully explore is success. The success and... the real breakthrough is that the President of Russia this visit managed to break through the economic blockade, which was announced in fact the "Big seven".

Second: Japanese Prime Minister Abe first visited Russia, and then accepted Putin's defiance of Washington, which, they say, very unhappy with the emerging "thaw" in relations between Tokyo and Moscow.

And then, and another — a myth, but let's order.

Upon arrival in Tokyo, Mr Putin said that "Russia's economy and Japan complementary and virtually no competitive conflicts." That is the essence of truth, as in Soviet times, the main subject of our exports to the "land of the rising sun" was raw, and the subject of import — machines, high-tech equipment, electronics, vehicles, etc. Which is really competitive contradictions?

What then is myth? Some kind of statement of economic blockade, which involved Japan. And it is a total lie is that an obstacle to the development of economic cooperation between our countries are some ideological differences, and even more — "the problem of the Kuril Islands".

Let's start with the fact that if in 1957 the total amount of trade between the USSR and Japan was only $ 21.6 million in the following year the amount doubled.

By 1970, the volume of supply has reached 652 million rubles, i.e. increased from 1958 to 19 times. In the period from 1966 to 1980, the trade turnover between our countries has almost doubled every 5 years, reaching a record level of 3 682 million in 1982. In 1988, the Soviet Union occupied 17-e a place in Japan's exports and 18-th place in its import; accordingly, Japan has occupied 11-e a place in the foreign trade of the USSR and came in 3rd place on this indicator among the capitalist countries, after Germany and Finland. Let me remind you, this was the period of the cold war and Moscow's position on the issue of ownership of the Kuril Islands was crystal clear.

As is the case in the 2000s — is seen from the following table 1.

Table 1. Dynamics of trade turnover between Russia and Japan (in million dollars. USA)

I should add that in January—September this year the trade turnover between Japan and Russia continued their downward trend and amounted to $11.5 billion.

For me it is obvious that the volume of bilateral trade turnover as 50 years ago, and today is not directly from any "blockades" or issue of belonging Kuril Islands. The crucial factor here is the economic situation. Russia does not have a product that is unique to Japan, so that could offer others. (See. Fig. 1)


Fig. 1. Commodity structure of Russian exports to Japan in 2015

The Russian authorities are unable to offer to foreign (including Japanese) investors any most attractive projects (like, notice, and other businessmen from East Asia, but that's a topic for another conversation). What does the Kuril Islands, "sanctions" "economic breakthroughs"? To the harsh reality of geo-Economics, this myth is irrelevant.

By the way, about the perfect Tokyo breakthrough. Mass-media have informed on signing of the total of 68 papers, of which 56 had on agreements between companies and organisations. But most of them — not anything specific, but merely memoranda of understanding that are often not worth the paper on which they are printed.

Real enough can be considered is that the Japanese Bank for international cooperation (JBIC) has signed an agreement with "Yamal LNG" on opening a credit line worth 200 million euros in project Finance (the Russian side asked for 400 million Corporation) Mitsui ("Mitsui") has agreed to consider the acquisition of 10% stake in Russian pharmaceutical group of companies "R-Pharm", and the already mentioned JBIC and the Russian direct investment Fund (RDIF) have agreed to establish a joint investment Fund totaling $1 billion. Yes, still, Gazprom will receive a syndicated loan of €800 million from a consortium of Japanese banks led by Sumitomo Mitsui.

Therefore it is necessary to speak not about economic breakthrough, and the frantic search of loans in deep crisis of the Russian economy. The Kremlin has approached these negotiations as a supplicant than the Japanese side did not fail to take advantage.


Equally untenable is the assertion that Abe and the Japanese elite, having started talks with Putin, acting without regard for Washington. Everything is exactly the opposite. Only close to the Kremlin dreamers can entertain the illusion that relations between Moscow and Tokyo depend only on themselves. In fact, the behaviour of Japan in relation to the Russian leadership defines joint U.S.-Japanese strategy of "containment of China", the supporters of which are Barack Obama, and Donald trump. In this task, the distancing of Moscow from Beijing plays a huge role.

Japanese politicians and experts do not conceal that one of the priorities of foreign policy of the country is to prevent the Russian-Chinese bloc. Today, Moscow is openly irritated by the fact that China to a certain extent, in compliance with the anti-Russian sanctions, he refuses to unambiguously acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory, uses a complex economic situation in Russia to lower prices for oil and gas — in a word, claims the Kremlin to Beijing a lot. So in Tokyo rightly suggested that now is a very favorable moment — in exchange for promises of investments and loans to fix "Chinese slope" of Moscow (partly exaggerated, but it is a problem of the Japanese). At the same time to solve "the problem of the Kuril Islands".

Therefore, to talk about some great Washington of Japan's position towards Russia is plain stupid. As the talk about "turning Tokyo to Moscow." There is no turning — there's a subtle game that the Kremlin has stepped in not really realizing the magnitude of the rates. If a rotation occurred, it is only in the tactics of solving Japan's "Northern territories problem".

"The unconditional return of the four Islands was a slogan used during the cold war," — said in an interview with "new York times" one of the leading experts in the field of Russian-Japanese relations Professor Nobuo Shimotomai (by Nobuo Shimotomai) from the University of Hosei (Tokyo) — "60 years Later we need a new approach to Moscow. It may be some kind of shared sovereignty [over the Islands]".

It is noteworthy that the idea of joint economic development of the South Kuril Islands Russia promoted not one year, but Japan has traditionally resisted. Because, according to Tokyo, to allow Japanese companies to invest in Moscow-occupied "Northern territories" would mean an implicit recognition of Russian sovereignty over the disputed lands. Now the approach has changed. Economic presence will allow to gain a foothold on the Islands, and there — we'll see.

Fundamental to Tokyo now, after Putin opened the door to the Kuril Islands is the development of a special tax and legal regime for this territory, a regime that is "washed away" to the Russian sovereignty. The Japanese side will lobby for the adoption in Tokyo and Moscow of such laws that will allow for joint activities on the Kuril Islands is not at common law and pursuant to these special acts. And, even today, the Japanese businessmen as a condition of implementation of the bilateral agreements require the creation of such conditions that minimise their communication with Russian officials. And in Moscow government offices have already — albeit stealthily — and started walking the idea to create a joint with the Japanese management company, a sort of "East India 2.0".

It is important for Russia to save face, and in Tokyo became very sparing his image as the "national leader and statesman" "the joint economic activity" does not mean the loss of Russian sovereignty, the Japanese investors will create more jobs, and China, fearing a cunning Russian moves will be more responsive to the needs of the Kremlin.

The only problem is that in the medium term this will lead to the actual loss of the Islands. In peaceful competition for possession of the Islands with more economically active and financially much more powerful Japan, Russia has no chance. But is it really this fact is concerned with the current Russian elite? What, he demanded to Tokyo to abandon the Japanese Declaration of 2009, which declared sovereignty over the Islands? Achieved Japan's withdrawal from the sanctions regime against Russia? Tokyo has agreed to change its position in respect of ownership of the Crimea? The revised agreement of the Yeltsin era, according to which Japanese fishermen unable to fish even in the 200-mile economic zone of Russia and its territorial waters?

Nothing like that in sight. The notorious "hardness" of the President disappeared. What, in General, is understandable — you need money, a lot urgently need to plug the holes from the activities of "effective managers" — there can be no ambition and not to national interests. The mechanism of "soft surrender Smoking" run.


Residents of the Kuril Islands came as a shock when they were informed that from 1 January 2017 flight to the Kuril Islands to the mainland will rise by as much as three times... practically, this means that the island really is cut off from Russia, and without any of their transfer to Japan.

"It seems that we have specially to survive the Motherland", — in eager rivalry complain of local residents... ("the Kuril Islands cut off from Russia without Japan" (Moskovsky Komsomolets, No. 27282, dated 17 December 2016).

Igor Pankratenko


Tags: assessment , Russia

RELATED MATERIALS: Politics and Geopolitics