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

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 War notably. This was the first war in which a major European Power was defeated by a non-western power since the start of the rise of the West. It signaled also the limits of the Imperial Russian power while compounded with Japan’s victory over China a decade earlier, the rise and the increased impact of the Meiji-Era Reforms in Japan. Most recently, Russia has declared its intent to construct base on the southern island of Kunashir in the the occupied territories of the Kuril Island Chain.

With the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese war, several lasting issues were created in the Peace of Portsmouth New Hampshire. One of these issues included the annexation of the southern half of Sakhalin, which Russia ceded to Japan. Second of all, Japan gained rights over the Russian base at Port Arthur on the Liao-tung Peninsula. Finally, Korea entered into the Japanese sphere of influence with the following annexation in 1910.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Japan participated in a punitive action of occupation alongside the United States and the United Kingdom against territories of the former Russian Empire.  The Siberian Intervention took place from 1918-1922 with members of the Allies totaling 100,000 occupied territory around Vladivostok in order to bring the Eastern Front back to a functioning state. Much of the Japanese policy was driven by the desire to settle “The Northern Issue” of conflict between Russia and Japan. Nonetheless, as Allied support for the intervention waned, Japan pull its troops back.

From 1932-1939, the Soviet Union and Mongolia on one side and Japan had over 150 border clashes around the puppet state of Manchukuo in present-day Manchuria, China. Nonetheless, as the Japanese government chose the Imperial Navy’s “Southern Plan” of fighting the colonies of the Europeans instead of the Imperial Army’s “Northern Plan” of fighting the Soviet Union, a well-abided Neutrality Pact was concluded between the Soviet Union and Japan. This lasted until August of 1945, when the Soviet Union declared war against Japan, leading to the loss of Manchukuo, the Korean Peninsula, Southern Sakhalin, and the Kuril Island Chain. Since this time, first Japan and the Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation, have not concluded a final peace treaty.

The inability to conclude a treaty has been harmful for both states as it restricts the amount of trade, cooperation, and coordination that they can conduct. Nonetheless, as Japan is a generally open, trade-friendly, technologically advanced, and capital rich state, it is the Russian Federation that hurts more from the current stalemate. Moreover, the Russian Federation’s continued challenge to Japan by not resolving the Kuril Island Chain Issue as well as its cooperation with China, will only drive Japan to deeper integration in security and economically with the United States and through trade and political coordination with the European Union. While the strategic value of Russian occupation of the Kuril Chain remains, the Japan of today is quite different from the pre-WWII militant state. The construction of the base on the southern island of Kunashir will only drive another nail into the coffin of regional cooperation in Northeast Asia.


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