Asia - Pacific

Ukraine war toughens Japan’s stance on disputed islands with Russia

Tokyo says Russian war on Ukraine undermines foundation of international order

Riyaz ul Khaliq   | 22.04.2022
Ukraine war toughens Japan’s stance on disputed islands with Russia


As the ongoing war in Ukraine is triggering a geopolitical shift in the region, far off in the Pacific, it has also prompted Japan to reshape its position on disputed islands with Russia.

This could be seen in Japan’s latest annual foreign policy – 2022 Diplomatic Bluebook – released on Friday in what is called a “switch to a hardline stance in its decades-long territorial dispute with Moscow,” according to Kyodo News.

Russia and Japan have not signed a peace treaty after World War II and have a territorial dispute over what Moscow calls the Southern Kuril Islands – a set of four islets controlled by Russia, which Japan identifies as the Northern Territories.

At the 1945 Yalta Conference, the Soviet Union agreed to start military operations on the eastern front under an agreement with its Western allies, and in exchange, received some Japanese territories, including the Kuril Islands.

Tokyo says the former Soviet Union seized the islets after Japan’s World War II surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

“The Northern Territories are islands over which Japan has sovereignty, and are an inherent part of the territory of Japan, but now are illegally occupied by Russia,” the bluebook said.

It marks a Himalaya shift in Japan’s view on the dispute with Russia after Moscow launched the war on Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Tokyo had maintained a conciliatory approach toward Russia, Kyodo News reported.

It is the first time since 2003 that “illegally occupied” wording re-appeared in the annual report regarding the disputed islands named Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and Habomai.

Further, the report stresses the disputed islets “are an inherent part of the territory of Japan,” something which has missing since the 2011 annual report.

The two countries were in negotiations to launch joint economic activities on the islands but the chapter is closed as Tokyo joined its Western allies to impose punishing sanctions on Russia for its war on Ukraine which has displaced at least 7.7 million people in Ukraine while more than 5 million have fled the country.

Besides, around 2,435 civilians have been killed and 2,946 injured in Russian attacks on Ukraine.

Last month, Russia withdrew from peace talks with Japan over the Kuril Islands and all related projects in response to Tokyo’s sanctions against Moscow.

The bluebook calls the Russian war on Ukraine “an outrage that undermines the foundation of the international order not only in Europe but also in Asia” and the current circumstances “leave the prospects for an outcome in the territorial talks uncertain.”

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