News / Europe

    Russia, Japan Trade Insults Over Islands

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (r) and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara at their meeting in Moscow, February 11, 2011
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (r) and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara at their meeting in Moscow, February 11, 2011
    James Brooke

    Japan and Russia’s top diplomats traded undiplomatic language Friday over a 65-year-old standoff over disputed Islands.  Analysts said the election calendar might be dictating Russia’s tough talk.  

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Japan’s position radical, adding that dialogue has "no chance."

    Seated next to the Russian diplomat at a press conference in Moscow Friday, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara responded icily:  "The Northern Territories are age-old Japanese territory."

    What's involved

    The dispute revolves around Pacific islands that the Soviet Union seized in the final days of World War II.  Russia calls them the Southern Kuriles.  Japan calls them the Northern Territories.

    The dispute has dragged on since 1945. Suddenly, it has flared anew.  Some commentators say it has do with the fact that Russia is now in an election year. Parliamentary elections are in December. Presidential elections are one year from now. Asia analyst Bobo Lo says President Medvedev wants to show himself tough, like Prime Minister Putin.

    "There is a contrast between tough Putin, and soft, sensitive Medvedev," said Lo. "What Medvedev may want to do, and what the people around Medvedev may want to do, is to steel up his image a little bit."

    Russian visit

    Last fall, Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian President to visit the island group, home to 19,000 Russians who live largely off fishing. Last week, his defense minister visited the largest island.

    This week, Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan called the Russian visits an unforgivable outrage.  Japanese rightists protested in Tokyo, trampling a Russian flag and mailing a bullet to the Russian Embassy.

    In response, President Medvedev went on national television and gave stern instructions to defense officials to bolster military installations on the island.

    Fight heats up

    Since then, Russian military officials have given interviews, outlining plans to send helicopters, helicopter carrying warships, and armored personnel carriers to the fog bound islands. One Russian general talked of plans to extend the runway on the biggest four islands to allow the landing of massive military transport planes.

    On Friday, while the foreign ministers were meeting here, the Japanese embassy in Moscow was picketed by a rotating series of pro-Kremlin youth groups - Young Russia, Young Guard, and Steel. At one rally, protesters chanted "We won't give up the Kurils!" and pretended to flog an activist dressed as Japan’s prime minister.

    At the press conference the Russian foreign minister made a point of saying that Russia would welcome investment on the Kuriles from Japan’s historic enemies in Asia - China and Korea. Alexander Lukin director of a Foreign Ministry affiliated East Asia study center, asked: "Who cares?"

    "Nobody told the Japanese that Russia was not going to develop these islands, to not have its military on these islands," said Lukin. "So if they want to see it as a slap in the face, who cares?"

    Lukin said that while political relations between Japan and Russia may be hitting new lows, economic relations are hitting new highs. He said that Japan rivals China as the leading Asian investor in Russia. Japanese investors come here, he said, because they can make money.

    Business as usual

    Indeed, on Wednesday, Tokyo newspapers reported that Toyota is planning to open a car assembly plant in Vladivostok capable of producing 30,000 Toyotas a year. On Thursday, Carlos Ghosn, head of Renault-Nissan, announced plans for this French-Japanese alliance to take majority control this year of Avtovaz, Russia’s largest car manufacturer.

    Indeed, politics do not seem to be disrupting ties. On Friday, one Russian nationalist party, the Liberal Democrats, picketed the Japanese consulate in Vladivostok. They carried signs reading, "Stop Dreaming of the Kurils."

    Hoping to inspire voters, the party is calling for a nationwide strike of the hundreds of sushi restaurants that dot Russian cities. Judging by the crowds Friday in Moscow’s sushi restaurants, not too many Russians plan  to give up their tuna rolls to make a political point.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora