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
TEXT SIZE - +

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.


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid