Russian investigators open coffin of next-to-last czar

Efforts still underway to officially identify 2 bodies as belonging to Czar Nicholas II’s family. Russian investigators open coffin of next-to-last czar to collect DNA Associated Press ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Investigators have opened the coffin of Russia’s next-to-last czar … Continue reading

The Perils of Confidence: Russian navy sailed for six months to face the Japanese. The battle lasted half an hour.

New book on the Russo-Japanese War focuses on Russian hubris. The Perils of Confidence The Russian navy sailed for six months to face the Japanese. The battle lasted half an hour. A Japanese lithograph of the Battle of Tsushima in … Continue reading

Intimate Family Portraits of the Romanovs

    The Romanovs in the eyes of their closest attendants Romanov’s home life without pomp and ceremony. By Ksenia Isaeva Scroll down to see more ARCHIVE PHOTO These photographs display the Romanovs’ home life without pomp and ceremony. / … Continue reading

Now It’s Not Just Czar Nicholas II that Russia is Digging Up

The quest to definitively prove the identities of two of the Czar’s children now extends to exhuming the Czar’s father, Alexander III   Russia is digging up a 19th century czar to solve a mystery experts say is already solved … Continue reading

Russia Will Exhume Bodies of Nicholas II and his Wife

Alexander Palace isn’t the only thing being excavated in St. Petersburg. Russia Will Exhume Remains Of Czar Nicholas II And His Wife The czar, his wife and five children were executed in 1918. Russia will dig up the remains for … Continue reading

September 5 was the 110th Anniversary of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty

The Portsmouth Peace Treaty, brokered by President Teddy Roosevelt, that ended the Russo-Japanese War had its 110th anniversary yesterday WORLD WAR ZERO Commemorating Portsmouth Peace Treaty Japanese, Russian dignitaries help mark anniversary of accord |  Japanese and Russian dignitaries and … Continue reading

110th Anniversary of Portsmouth Peace Treaty–Film to be Shown Aug. 22, 2015

Film about the treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War to be shown August 22, 2015 Portsmouth Peace Treaty film highlights to be shown Aug. 22 In the summer of 1981, an NHK television crew from Japan spent time in New … Continue reading

First Time Seen: Korea’s Side of the Russo-Japanese War

Emperor Gojong asserted Korea’s independence before the Russo-Japanese War, but became a protectorate of Japan after the war.         Gojong’s diplomacy is reevaluated Emperor Gojong (1852-1919), the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), is usually recalled … Continue reading

North Korea Establishes Own Time Zone to Stick It to Japan

The Koreans have not forgiven Japan for acquiring the Korean peninsula in the Russo-China War and the Russo-Japanese War             North Korea establishes its own time zone in order to stick it to “wicked Japanese … Continue reading

Strategic Underpinnings of the Russo-Japanese War

There were many reasons for the Russo-Japanese War, not all of them strategic, but these were some of the historic underpinnings of the war that changed the geopolitical balance in the world       Explore»Education and Science»History and Archaeology»Military … Continue reading

‘Little-Known’ Mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin During the Russo-Japanese War

At the same time that the Russo-Japanese War was being waged in the Pacific, this ‘little-known’ mutiny was taking place on the Black Sea Mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin, 110 Years Ago By Evan Andrews In June 1905, a bloody … Continue reading

Russia Seeks to Build Base on Japanese-Controlled Islands; Russo-Japanese War May Not be Over Yet

In Russia, the Russo-Japanese War Never Really Ended Russia Challenges Japan Published by Joshua Noonan Japan and Russia have had a fractious relationship since diplomatic relations were established two centuries ago. These first sparked into war in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese … Continue reading

Newsreel Footage Announcing President Theodore Roosevelt Success Ending Russo-Japanese War

New illustration and video in the updated Encyclopedia Britannica entry for the Russo-Japanese War.   FROM: … Continue reading

Baron Takahashi, Who Raised Funds for Japan in Russo-Japanese War, Also Pulled Japan Out of Depression

I have previously written about Jacob Schiff, who provided the funding for Japan to defeat Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. This is about the Baron from Japan who sought to raise those funds. WSJ Archive: The Life and Times of … Continue reading

5 Amazing Facts About History’s First Modern Sea Battle

Great article about the naval portion of the Russo-Japanese War WEST POINT HISTORY OF WARFARE Steel Ships at Tsushima – Five Amazing Facts About History’s First Modern Sea Battle by Sponsored Content This is the first of a two-part series … Continue reading

How Jewish Bankers Helped Changed the Balance of Geopolitical Powers in 1905

See my latest article, below: How Jewish Bankers Helped Changed the Balance of Geopolitical Powers in 1905 by Bryna Kranzler A chance conversation over dinner in London between a despondent baron from Japan and a Jewish investment banker resulted in an … Continue reading

President Theodore Roosevelt’s Nobel Peace Prize Was Controversial

Apparently, not everyone applauded Teddy Roosevelt for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War THE BLOG What Would TR and Orwell Say? 2:32 PM, APR 6, 2015 • BY GEOFFREY NORMAN We must ever bear in mind that the great … Continue reading

Still Seeking to Normalize Relations with Russia

Still working to normalize relations damaged during the Russo-Japanese War   25 March 2015 Japan-Russia Relations: Toward a Peace Treaty and Beyond What will it take to normalize Japanese-Russian relations? Yoko Hirose recommends 1) resolving the two countries’ Northern Territories disputes, … Continue reading

111th Anniversary of Attack that Led to Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War was prompted by Japanese attack on Port Arthur, which was provoked by Russian violation of a treaty Japanese print displaying the destruction of a Russian ship. By Richard Cavendish Published in History Today Volume 54 Issue 2 … Continue reading

Jack London, War Correspondent, on the Russo-Japanese War

About the build-up to the Russo-Japanese War.   By Dale L. Walker HEN Jack London boarded the S. S. Siberia on January 7, 1904, bound for Yokohama, he could look back on a bittersweet year in his young but auspicious … Continue reading

Database of Jewish Soldiers in the Russian Army Killed During the Russo-Japanese War

This is a great resource for people who want to learn about family members who were killed during the Russo-Japanese War. I commend Boris Feldblyum for the effort to make this information available.

Russian-Japanese War of 1904-1905
Database of Russian Army Jewish soldiers
injured, killed, or missing in action

The Russo-Japanese War, which took place almost a century ago, had profound consequences on the conditions of the Jews in Russia and, subsequently, on their ever-increasing pace of emigration from that hostile country.

The war grew out of the misguided Russian foreign policy, and out of what was a seen as a necessity to boost Tsar Nicholas II’s regime internally by a “short, victorious war”, in words of Russia’s Interior Minister, V. Plehve. First, Russia broke the terms of its treaty with China by introducing military into Manchuria. Then, instead of negotiating with Japan over spheres of influence in the Far East, it annexed Manchuria. On February 8, 1904, the Japanese attacked Russian fleet in Port Arthur (now Lushun, in North-East China). The attack was successful and made headlines around the world. For the next year, Port Arthur became a battleground, which cost great many lives to both sides. The city surrendered to the Japanese in the end of December. 25,000 Russian troops were taken prisoners by the Japanese. Russia’s Pacific fleet, and the Baltic fleet that came to its rescue, were decimated by the Japanese as well. The result of the war was emergence of Japan as world power. For Russia, it was a major disaster, one which directly contributed to the civil unrest, the Revolution of 1905, the rise of nationalism and, of course, sharp increase in anti-Semitism and a wave of bloody pogroms that lasted for over two years.

As it happened too many times in history, Russian Jews fought in a war that was not theirs, for the country that treated them as sub-humans, against the backdrop of official persecutions, mob attacks, and a deep sense of despair. And yet, as it happened too many times in other wars, the history of the Russo-Japanese war is filled with stories of Jewish bravery and patriotism. The most notable and well known example is the heroic conduct of Yosef Trumpeldor, a 24 year old dentist. He lost one arm during a battle at Port Arthur, but refused to leave the front, asking for a sword and a gun. He continued fighting, was taken prisoner when Port Arthur fell, was awarded four times with the St. George Order, the highest Russian military award. Later he emigrated to Palestine and was killed in 1920 in a battle with Arabs.

Medical student Henryk Goldszmit, one of the first Jews, accepted to the Warsaw University to study medicine, served in field hospitals in Manchuria. He wanted to be a writer, while his family wanted him to become a doctor. He became both and was know to the world as Janusz Korczak. He ended his life in Treblinka gas chambers, comforting the children of the orphanage which he directed in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Many thousands of Jews, less known or totally unknown in the big world, fought, were injured, killed, or missing in the Russo-Japanese war. In the tradition of the times, many Russian papers printed the names of the soldiers killed or missing in action. The compilation of nearly three thousand Jewish names was prepared and translated into English from notices that first appeared in the Russkij Invalid newspaper in 1904-1905. The records provide information of considerable genealogical value to those with roots in the Russian Empire, as the examples show.

For the purpose of making it easy to search and browse the database on the Web, the records were sorted by two criteria: surname-town and town-surname. Only this, essential for research information, has been translated for the on-line database. The complete information about each person, in the format of the examples, will be translated on an as-needed basis, at a nominal charge of US$18.00 per record. The records can be ordered from FAST Genealogy Service, using the enclosed order form . To browse the database by names, please go to the surname-town page , to browse the database by towns, please go to the town-surname page. If you find a record of interest to you, write its number in the order form. We also accept payment by paypal using this e-mail address: [email protected]. Original records are not available, only their exact translations.

The computerized database of these records was created in summer 1998 by Josh Feldblyum, at a considerable sacrifice of his summer vacation from school. This project would not have been possible if not for his dedication and diligence. He is also credited with the HTML design. Josh was happy to learn that commercial benefits, if any, from this project, will be directed to finance his rapidly approaching college years.

Copyright Boris Feldblyum © 1998

Back to FAST Genealogy Service home page

Why Foreign Intervention Usually Fails in the 21st Century

How Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War inspired Nehru to challenge the British


Why foreign intervention usually fails in the 21st century

By Richard Falk, Foreign Policy Journal
Foreign Policy Journal
Nehru was taking a train on his return to India after studying abroad when he read of the Japanese victory over Russia in the 1904-05 Russo Japanese War. At that moment, he had an epiphany, realizing the hitherto unthinkable, that the British Empire was vulnerable to Indian nationalism. An earlier understanding of the colonial reality by native peoples generally subscribed to the postulates of hard power primacy making it futile or worse to challenge a colonial master, although throughout history there were always pockets of resistance. This soft power attribute of colonial hard power by way of intimidation and a façade of invincibility is what made colonialism efficient and profitable for so long at the great expense of colonized peoples.A traditional colonial occupation assumes that the foreign domineering presence, while oppressive and exploitative, refrains from ethnic cleansing or genocide in relation to the indigenous population. When settler versions of colonialism emerged in relation to the Western Hemisphere and regions occupied by traditional peoples that were without either population density or some kind of industrial capability, the occupier managed to achieve enduring control typically relying on brutal means to establish its state-building claim via some form of dispossession that successfully superseded indigenous identities. Thus the indigenous identity is marginalized or extinguished, and the settler identity is legitimized as the ‘true’ identity.There is still a mysterious connection between military inferiority and political victory. It seems to defy common sense and the pragmatic wisdom of political elites that believe in the historical agency of hard power long after the empirical record casts severe doubt on such ‘realist’ claims. Of course, and it should not be overlooked, if an occupied people mistakenly chooses to risk its future by militarily challenging the occupier on the battlefield, it is likely to lose and may suffer extreme losses. Military resistance is possible, but it needs to be calibrated to the interplay of unequal capabilities and take advantage of elements of conflict that favor the militarily weaker side.

As Tolstoy portrays in War and Peace, the extraordinary Russian resilience displayed in defeating and expelling the superior military forces of Napoleon’s France, it was a matter of tactically retreating to the point that French supply lines were stretched beyond their capacities to maintain their alien and foreign presence, especially given the rigors of the Russian winter; Hitler’s war machine experienced a similar devastating defeat at the hands of the outgunned Soviet defensive forces who also understood the benefits of withdrawal. In effect, there are tactical, geographical, ideological, normative dimensions of conflict that when intelligently activated can neutralize the seemingly decisive advantages of the militarily superior side that has the best weaponry. The history of imperial decline also illustrates the eventual neutralization of the sharp realist edge that had been earlier achieved through battlefield dominance.

The architects of colonial expansion made ideological claims that were able to give their economic and political ambitions a kind of moral justification. It was Europe’s moral hubris to insist upon an imperial entitlement premised on the supposed civilizational and racial superiority of Western peoples. Such a rationale for conquest and occupation put forward an apparent normative claim to govern backward peoples, and additionally argued that more advanced industrial practice make more efficient use of resources than did the native population.

In the period since World War II, considering the weakening of the European colonial powers, a determined drive for nationalist self-empowerment spread to all of Asia and Africa. Each situation was different, and in some the colonial power left more or less willingly after a period of struggle, as in India, while in others long wars ensued as in Indochina and Algeria. The wave of anti-colonial successes politically transformed world order, creating dozens of new states that reshaped the political landscape of the United Nations. The anti-colonial movement enjoyed extraordinary success in achieving formal independence for colonized people, but it did not end the role of hierarchy in structuring international relations and the world economy. The geopolitical ascendancy of the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as the capitalist world economy sustained on a material basis the exploitative and dominant relationship of the West to the non-West.

During the Cold War, geopolitical rivalry and American efforts at counter-revolution directed at left-oriented political developments, led to military interventions designed to impose limits on the exercise of the right of self-determination. The Soviet interventions in East Europe, such as Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, were emblematic of such a pattern within the state socialist bloc of countries. The United States relied on covert interventions whenever possible (as in Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954), and resorted to military interventions when necessary to uphold its strategic and ideological interests. The Vietnam War was the most important example of a full-fledged intervention designed to prevent the emergence of a left-leaning government that would strengthen Communist influence in South Asia.

The United States enjoyed complete military dominance in Vietnam throughout the decade long war, having mastery of air, sea, and land, yet proved vulnerable to certain defensive tactics of guerrilla warfare. The war was lost by the United States in the end because its political system lost patience with its inability to establish stability in support of a Vietnamese leadership that was anti-Communist and dependent on the West. Some militarists contend that the war was lost on TV in American living rooms (seeing the body bags of Americans killed in Vietnam swayed public opinion) or because the military presence that reached a half million relied on conscripted troops that gave rise to a student led anti-war movement. In other words, the war was lost politically, not militarily.

Such an understanding is partly true, but it overlooks the role of national resistance in Vietnam, and attributes the outcome to the faltering political will of the intervening side. The great advantage of those national forces seeking to expel foreign occupation, even if indirect as in Vietnam where the United States was nominally supporting one side in a civil war, is its familiarity with the terrain and its far greater stake in the outcome. Henry Kissinger made the apt observation that in a counterinsurgency war if the counterinsurgent side doesn’t win, it loses, while if the insurgent side doesn’t lose, it wins. Such a statement, not surprisingly considering its source, overlooks the role of people, especially the greater steadfastness of those fighting for the independence of their country as compared with those seeking to impose an alien or foreign solution on a conflict. The foreign intervener calculates whether it is worth the cost, and in a democratic society, the mixture of casualties and the absence of a timely victory, gradually undermines the popular enthusiasm that may have accompanied the earliest expressions of support. Patience among the citizenry runs out when the foreign war does not seem to be closely connected with the defense of the national homeland. This became especially clear in the United States during the latter stages of the Vietnam War when the American public began to perceive a ‘credibility gap’ between the government’s claim that it was winning the war and a more sober account of a stalemate without a victorious end in sight. For the Vietnamese, this was not a matter of whether to give up or not, but how to continue their struggle despite their material inferiority and the adversities associated with the devastation of their country. The Vietnamese leadership was prepared for every eventuality, including a 50-year retreat to mountainous regions, being convinced that at some point the foreigners would tire of the conflict and go home.

The United States as global hegemon is incapable of learning such lessons or accepting the ethos of self-determination that has such salience in the post-colonial world. Instead it tries over and over again to reinvent counterinsurgency warfare, hoping finally to discover the path leading to victory. The American strategic community believed the lessons of Vietnam were to build better support at home for the war effort, embark on war with sufficient force to achieve victory quickly, and abandon the drafting of its military personnel from among its youth. The warmakers also tried to design weaponry and tactics so as minimize casualties in these one-sided wars for the intervening side. At first, the adjustments seemed to work as the adversary was foolish enough to meet the foreign challenge on the battlefield as in the 1991 Iraq War or where the military intervention was itself seeking to remove Serbian foreign rule as in Kosovo in 1999. There was enthusiasm in the Washington think tanks for what were thought to be a new triumphal era of ‘zero casualty wars.’ Of course, there were zero (or very low) casualties, as in these two wars, but only for the foreign intervener; the society being attacked from the air endured heavy casualties, and much devastation, as well as the demoralizing experience of total helplessness.

In the post-9/11 atmosphere of ‘a global war on terrorism’ this same geopolitical logic applies. The violence is carried to wherever on the planet a threat is perceived, and the victims are not only those who are perceived, whether rightly or wrongly as posing the threat, but also to the innocent civilians that happen to be living in the same vicinity. There is no deference to the sovereignty of other countries or to civilian innocence, and a unilateral right of preemptive attack is claimed in a manner that would be refused to any adversary of the West. The weaponry is designed to minimize political friction at home, exemplified by the growing reliance on attack drones that can inflict strikes without ever risking casualties for the attacker. Such weaponry allows war to persist almost permanently, especially as it serves both bureaucratic and private sector interests, and produces an almost enveloping securitization of the political atmosphere, destroying democratic freedoms in the process.

As the outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq show, despite the enormous military and economic effort by the United States, the political outcome was disappointing, if not yet clearly a defeat. And the results are strategically worse from an American perspective than the original provocation and goals. Putting the point provocatively, many in the Washington policy making world would be secretly glad if there occurred a second coming in Iraq of Saddam Hussein who alone could restore unity and order to the country. The American version of a civilizing mission was ‘democracy promotion,’ which proved just as unpalatable to the population being attacked and occupied as were the earlier moral claims of outright colonial administrations. Indirect adverse consequences from a U.S. perspective of these failed intervention included the intensification of Sunni/Shi’ia sectarian tensions throughout the region and the establishment of fertile breeding grounds for anti-Western political extremism.

The West also builds support for its militarist approaches to contemporary forms of conflict by demonizing its adversary, ignoring their grievances, whether legitimate or not. The politics of demonization that fits so neatly with ascribing terrorist behavior to the other also has the effect of rejecting diplomacy and compromise. Yet interestingly, there is a willingness to regard yesterday’s demon as today’s ally. This shuffling of ‘the enemy’ has been happening constantly in the setting of Iraq and Syria. The abrupt entry of IS on the scene is the most spectacular example of such a shuffling of alignments, having the effect of suspending the anti-Assad efforts of the United States and Europe.

There is more to these unlearned lessons than strategic failures, and being on the wrong side of history. These ventures cause millions of ordinary people in distant countries to bear the terrifying brunt of modern weaponry that kills, wounds, displaces, and traumatizes. For the intervener the outcome is at worst a regrettable or even tragic mistake, but the society back home persists in its complacent affluence; but for the target societies, in contrast, the experience of such foreign military encroachment is experienced as swallowing a massive dose of criminality in a global setting in which the criminals scandalously enjoy total impunity.

Given the way elites think and militarism is structured into the bloodstream of major states, foreign military intervention is intrinsic to the war system. We must work now as hard to eliminate war as earlier centuries worked to eliminate slavery. Nothing less will suffice to rescue the planet from free fall to disaster.

In the end, we have reached a stage in the political development of life on the planet where civilizational and species survival itself depends on the urgency of building an effective movement against the war system that remains indispensable to sustain hierarchy and exploitation, wastes huge amounts of resources, and dangerously diverts problem-solving priorities from climate change and the elimination of nuclear weaponry. Unless such a radical transformation of the way life on the planet is undertaken in the decades ahead, two intertwined developments are likely to make the future inhospitable to human habitation even if the worst catastrophes can be avoided: globalization morphing into various forms of authoritarian and oppressive political leadership intertwined with extremist movements of resistance that have no vision beyond that of striking back at the oppressors. How to evade such a dark future is what should be everywhere preoccupying persons of good will.

Your 60-Second Guide to the Russo-Japanese War

It was the first modern war, yet it’s not something taught in schools


The official website of BBC History Magazine

Your 60-second guide to the Russo-Japanese War

Generally considered to be the first great war of the 20th century, the conflict saw Russia and Japan – the two dominant nations in north-east Asia – battle for control over Korea and Manchuria.

But why did the war break out, and what is its historical significance? Here, Dr Philip Towle from the University of Cambridge tells you everything you need to know about the conflict.

Submitted by Emma McFarnon

Q: When and why did the Russo-Japanese War break out?

A: It broke out on 8 February 1904. The Russians and Japanese had been jostling for some years for control over Korea and Manchuria, which they both regarded as strategically and economically important.

At the start of the war, the Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian fleet moored outside Port Arthur in Manchuria, and also began landing troops at Chemulpo in Korea.

Q: Why is it so little remembered in Europe?

A: Its impact was blunted by the greater conflict that broke out in Europe 10 years later. But it is still remembered in Japan and, to a lesser extent, in Russia. It is certainly not because the war was unimportant politically or militarily.

Q: Who won the war?

A: The Japanese won every battle. The Russian naval forces based in Port Arthur were rattled by the losses they suffered in February 1904, and even more so by the death of their most charismatic commander, Admiral Stepan Makarov, when his flagship was blown up by a mine in April 1904.

Their ships spent much of the time in harbour before trying to escape on 10 August 1904 round the Korean peninsula to Vladivostok in Russia’s far eastern provinces. In the ensuing battle of the Yellow Sea, the flagship, Tsarevitch, was badly damaged, and the battle line fell into confusion before retreating to harbour.

Eventually the fleet was destroyed by the Japanese forces besieging Port Arthur from the landside, and the port itself surrendered in January 1905. The Russians sent another fleet to the far east to redeem the situation but, after an epic voyage, that too was obliterated by the Japanese at the battle of Tsushima in May 1905.

Q: Were the Japanese as successful on land?

A: Almost: they advanced from Korea across the Yalu river into Manchuria and, whenever the Russians tried to stand and fight, the Japanese outflanked them and forced them to retreat along their supply line, the railway to the north.

The two most important battles, at Liaoyang in August 1904 and Mukden in March 1905, were won by Japanese encircling movements, the quality of their artillery and the superior courage and training of their soldiers.

Q: What was the historical significance of the war, and what were the long-term effects?

A: The Japanese victory greatly encouraged nationalism in Asia and Africa. It was the first war in which a non-European nation had defeated a great European power using all the resources of modern technology.

Paradoxically, the war showed that Japan was bent on imperial expansion in Asia just when the European powers were starting to appreciate the nationalist threats to their empires. The Japanese were able to assert their control over Korea after the war, but only in the face of stiff guerrilla resistance by the Korean people, leading to bitter hatred that still poisons Japanese-Korean relations.

The war raised the international profile of the United States. It was President Theodore Roosevelt who convened the conference at Portsmouth in the USA that brought the war to a close in September 1905, and earned the president the Nobel Peace Prize.

In Russia the war led to revolts that presaged the revolution of 1917, and showed how politically destabilising defeat would be in future conflicts. The only part of the Russian state that had performed effectively was the Trans-Siberian Railway, which had kept hundreds of thousands of troops supplied thousands of miles from St Petersburg.

The war demonstrated the general weakness of old-fashioned autocracies, like Russia, which could not mobilise the support of the whole people – every European autocrat involved in the First World War was to be overthrown.

The war also showed some signs of bogging down in the sort of stalemate that bedevilled the fighting in the First World War, although this was not so obvious at the time because the armies involved were much smaller, and the Japanese were so superior to their Russian enemies.

The war was also a poor guide to future Japanese attitudes to the Law of War and humanitarianism. In 1904–05 they treated Russian prisoners and wounded with respect, but by the Second World War they no longer felt bound by such ‘western’ conventions.

Altogether then, the Russo-Japanese War was an ominous opening to the 20th century for the European powers, demonstrating how power was shifting to the United States and to other non-European nations, and how fragile many of the monarchies had become.


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Russo-Japanese Ties Remain a Casualty of War With Ukraine

The Russo-Japanese War is over. It’s not over.


Russo-Japanese Ties Remain a Casualty of War With Ukraine

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 175

By: Stephen Blank

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Source: PressTV)

Russian ties with Japan have clearly suffered serious damage due to Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine. Apparently, there will not be a visit by Russian President Putin to Japan anytime soon, despite previous wishes for such a trip by both sides (Asahi Shimbun AJW, September 24). Instead, Prime Minister Abe will meet with Putin at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference, [this] month (November 2014), in Beijing. Moreover, Japan has, albeit with visible reluctance, imposed new sanctions on Russia. It will restrict weapons exports and other items for military use and arms technology as well as ban five Russian banks from issuing securities in Japan (Xinhua, September 24, 2014).

In other signs of a slowdown in Russo-Japanese relations, Tokyo Gas is now delaying the signing of a purchase agreement with Russia for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Tokyo Gas claims that it first needs to study the impact of sanctions before committing itself. However, it seems that politics is indeed a factor here, as is generally the case with major Japanese companies’ investments in Russia (Interfax, September 24).

Predictably, Russia reacted negatively—although not with the same level of scorn it has shown to Europe. This, in itself, indicates that Putin wants to keep the door open to normalizing ties with Japan, however difficult that has now become due—almost exclusively—to Russian actions. Nevertheless, this factor has not inhibited the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from slamming Tokyo’s actions.

Japan had clearly indicated that it was imposing these new sanctions—which are far less ambitious than Western ones—to remain in solidarity with its partners in the G-7. But, Moscow saw this caution coming from Tokyo as weakness (China Daily Online, September 24). The Russian foreign ministry stated its “disappointment” with Japan’s decision to impose sanctions despite the agreements on a ceasefire in Ukraine that were reached in Minsk earlier in September. Furthermore, the ministry raised the question of whether Tokyo really wants to facilitate a rapprochement with Russia. Since sanctions are, according to Russia, illegal, clearly Japan is damaging its chances for normalizing bilateral ties Russia, the foreign ministry statement claimed (, September 24).

Beyond this veiled threat, the foreign ministry also stated that it regarded this “unfriendly step […] as another indication of Japan’s inability to pursue an independent foreign policy” (Interfax, September 24). This line of attack clearly reflects the “Japan-bashers” in the Russian government who see everyone but Moscow, Beijing and Washington as not really sovereign actors in the Asia-Pacific region. Consequently, they regularly deprecate Japan as being controlled by the United States and, therefore, of relatively less importance for Russia as a possible partner. Such thinking leads to conclusions by the “Japan-bashers” in Moscow that Russia need not pursue rapprochement with Japan, even if it might be desirable—especially since “Washington-controlled” Tokyo is also ultimately unwilling to move in Russia’s direction.

While Putin apparently remains willing to talk to Japan, the Russian government is displaying clear signs of its readiness to disregard Japanese interests—for example, by opening a new airport on Etoforu in the disputed Kuril Islands/Northern Territories, not coincidentally on an abandoned Japanese airport. While both Abe and Putin would most likely prefer to move bilateral relations forward, it is also abundantly clear that either or both of them will have to overlook their disagreements over dividing issues like Ukraine for a true rapprochement and normalization to happen. In other words, they may have to impose these supposed preferences upon their governments and disregard other costs: Japan’s need for solidarity with its allies, previous Russo-Japanese discord, and the fact that Russia’s growing intimacy and dependence on China restricts its freedom of maneuver vis-à-vis Japan (Nikkei Asian Review, September 23).

This will be a tall order given the pressures on both sides to entrench and remain where they are, and the fact that Russia is increasingly unable to deliver to Japan what it wants—progress on the Kurils and expanding investment opportunities in Russia as the Russian economy grows ever more protectionist and autarkic. And along with these considerations there are strong domestic pressures inside Russia to stay its present political course as well as inside Japan to maintain solidarity with the West, especially as it continually needs US backing against China. Overall, therefore, it appears that a political process is underway wherein Moscow and Tokyo are, once against, missing opportunities to break the impasse in their relations. But this time, one can ascribe the fault pretty much exclusively to Moscow. As such, Moscow may need to ask itself whether seizing Crimea and eastern Ukraine was worth losing the decisive race for true great-power standing and economic development in Asia and the Pacific.