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

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.