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KREMLIN PONDERING CLOSER TIES WITH JAPAN?

April 10, 2015 By Joseph P. Farrell

The geopolitical dance continues, and notwithstanding talk of Russian-American space cooperation which we blogged about earlier this week, here on Earth Russia is playing geopolitical hardball, and this time, it may be with Japan, as this article shared by Mr. S.D. indicates:

Is Putin Preparing a Breakthrough in Relations with Japan?

It is significant that this article appears under the auspices of the Valdai club, the Russian-sponsored geopolitical think-tank- cum-discussion group. As the article indicates, there are a number of stumbling blocks to any Russian-Japanese rapprochment, including the continuing disputes between Russia and Japan over the Russian occupation of the northern half of the northern most of the Kurile islands: Sakalhin Island. Interestingly, however, the article does not refer to the island by its Russian name at all.

There are two key paragraphs here that deserve attention:

"That being said, the current situation looks good for a diplomatic breakthrough that could turn into a tectonic shift in Northeast Asia. There are at least three reasons why the Kremlin would be tempted to choose this policy: a desire to win over a key member of the Western community, which would deliver a blow to US prestige; the hidden but very real fear that the rapprochement with China is moving too fast and could go too far; and lastly, the opportunity to attract large Japanese investments to Siberia and other Russian regions.
"The Crimean crisis has contributed to the change as well. Having “regained” Crimea, Putin may more easily agree to concessions on other disputed territories, like he did in relations with China in 2004 and with Norway in 2010. The internal political obstacles that prevented President Yeltsin from implementing a similar initiative in 1992 have been removed. Alarmed by Russian-Chinese rapprochement, Japan could be willing to take resolute steps. It may be a coincidence, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent a long time in early March trying to convince Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to extend anti-Russian sanctions." (*Emphasis added)

The Valdai group is here letting us know in clear and certain terms what the geopolitical and financial stakes, both for Russia, and Japan, are. The recent Russian decision to allow China an equity stake in the development of Siberian energy resources have fueled geopolitical fears that the sparsely populated Siberian portion of the Russian federation could simply be overwhelmed by a potential Chinese presence in the region.

Enter Japan, which under the government of Mr. Abe, has bowed to American pressures to raise the constitutional ceiling on how much of Japan's prodigious GDP may be spent on its military, effectively a declaration to rearm Japan, which, if you've been following the Japanese navy's recent warship construction, is proceeding quietly, and very significantly. Japan, too, let us recall, was accused in the wake of the Fukushima disaster of having been engaged in a covert nuclear weapons project. There is no doubt that Japan could become a nuclear and thermonuclear power very quickly if Tokyo chose to do so, and could overcome the popular and understandable abhorrence of nuclear weapons among the Japanese population.

This de facto remarmament, as I have argued, has a twofold purpose: at the public level, it bows to Washington pressure for Japan to take on a greater responsibility in the Pacific, the only major power in the region besides the United States able to do so, and to counterbalance China. But at the more hidden and long term level, I suspect Japan is increasingly nervous about American "good intentions" and the soundness of its foreign policy. Japan, on this score, is mirroring the concerns of Germany and France in Europe.

Thus, for Japan and Russia, as the article indicates, Japan could also be the counterbalance to the growing influence of China within Siberia.

And so we come to President Putin's impending visit to Tokyo this summer. What to expect? In my opinion, we should watch for two things: (1) announcements of Russo-Japanese "development" cooperation, particularly in Siberia, with the Kurile islands possibly on the agenda to secure that cooperation, and (2) a possible announcement of a "security agreement" between the two countries, up to, and including, bi-lateral, America excluded, military exercises, which will probably be couched in bland and non-threatening terms such as "emergency relief coordination" or some such euphemism. But the bottom line is, like the reorientation of Germany to the BRICSA bloc, is that this Russo-Japanese rapprochment is coming. It is, as the Valdai article strongly suggests, almost a geopolitical necessity for both countries.

See you on the flip side.