Russia’s military power and gas make Japan wary of U.S. -led sanctions

Washington’s broad coalition campaign to deter Russia is facing resistance in Japan, which relies on Russian energy imports and wants to keep talks with Moscow open over disputed islands, the Wall Street Journal reported.Russia is pressing Japan not to join potential Western sanctions if Ukraine is invaded.Russia is conducting military exercises on the islands that Soviet forces seized from Japan in 1945, and has deployed troops and missile bases there in recent years.Moscow said on Monday that it had sent more than 20 warships to the waters near the islands and had informed Japan earlier this month of its plans to conduct live-fire exercises in the area.Tokyo says it has lodged a protest.Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stressed dialogue with Russia at an annual gathering this week to commemorate Japan’s northern territories.”It is extremely regrettable that 76 years after the war, the question of the Northern Territories remains unresolved and a peace treaty between Japan and Russia has not been agreed upon,” Kishida said.I will be relentless in my negotiations over these islands.”Japan and Russia never signed a peace treaty after World War II because Tokyo first wanted an agreement to return some of the islands.Russia says Japan should accept Moscow’s ownership.We consider it absurd that there is no peace treaty in our relations, “Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the Eastern Economic Forum plenary session in September.He said Russia wanted to fully normalize relations with Japan, but, alluding to the large U.S. military contingent in Japan, said “there must be guarantees against contingencies arising from the possible deployment of U.S. armed forces near our borders, not to mention missile systems.”Japan’s wariness of provoking Russia also stems from its economic and energy ties with Moscow, which are less extensive than Germany, another hesitant American ally, but still important.Japan relies on imported natural gas to generate electricity, with nearly a tenth of its imports coming from Russia.Japanese trading companies Mitsui And Mitsubishi have a combined 22.5 percent stake in an oil and gas project on Russia’s Sakhalin Island.Mitsubishi is concerned that if sanctions are imposed on Russia, there could be damage to economic activity and influence investor perceptions.Despite Japan’s dependence on energy imports, Tokyo said on Wednesday it would provide small supplies of liquefied natural gas to Europe as an emergency measure following requests from the US and EU.Japan’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that Prime Minister Kishida had spoken with President Biden about what to do if Russia invaded Ukraine, but declined to discuss what Tokyo was prepared to do.A poll in the Nikkei newspaper in late January showed that opinions were roughly equal between those who said Japan should align itself with the U.S. in imposing any sanctions on Russia related to the Ukraine crisis and those who said Japan should follow its own course.Russia’s ambassador to Japan said last week that Moscow would regard any sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis as tantamount to severing relations.The recently appointed U.S. ambassador to Japan, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, waded into the dispute this week, criticizing the Russian ambassador and releasing a video message saying Washington supported Japan’s claims to the disputed territory.Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Tuesday accused the United States of allowing Japan’s artificial territorial claims against Russia to remain in place in order to prevent full and long-term cooperation between the two countries.Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spent nearly eight years in office courting Mr. Putin over the northern territories, including inviting the Russian leader for talks in 2016 at a hot spring resort in Mr. Abe’s ancestral homeland.The talks made little progress, and Russia ratcheted up the pressure after Abe resigned in 2020.Last year, During the Tokyo Olympics, Russia held naval exercises near the islands and has sent a series of senior leaders to visit them.Russia has also built military facilities on the two largest disputed islands in recent years.At the end of 2020, an anti-aircraft missile system was added to coastal cruise missile launchers deployed several years earlier.About 3,500 Russian troops are stationed there, according to Japan’s defense ministry.Military analysts say control of the Kuril Islands is important for Russia to ensure uncontested access to the Pacific for its Pacific fleet, including its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.James Brown, an expert on Japan-Russia relations at Tokyo’s Temple University, says Russia is also concerned about the growing presence of NATO forces in the Asia-Pacific region.The United States and Japan have held a series of naval exercises in the Pacific in recent months with Western European countries such as Britain and Germany.Russia and China have held joint exercises of their own, including a rare joint tour of Japan by warships from the two countries in October.”If Russia can also use the Kuril Islands to dissuade Japan from taking a hard line on Ukraine, then from their point of view that makes strategic sense,” Mr Brown said.Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that the Russian military was continuing training and military exercises all over Russia, including in the Far East.However, these exercises should never be a subject of concern and concern for our neighbours.

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