Putin raised the stakes: how Japan helps Ukraine

Putin raised the stakes: how one of Ukraine’s allies reacts

How Japan helps Ukraine

Putin managed to commit so many terrible stupid things during only nine days of September that the final moral and intellectual degradation of the system he created in the image and likeness of fascist Germany is beyond doubt. The announcement of “partial” mobilization, the holding of “referendums” in the regions of Ukraine, a terrible speech that can only be read or listened to in the presence of a psychiatrist, and, finally, the signing of worthless decrees on the “recognition of the independence” of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine – all these are symptoms of a great-power disorder, which is treated only by radical methods.

The consequences of these strategic miscalculations are only just beginning to manifest themselves. There is a general non-recognition of Moscow’s actions, new sanctions that have already been imposed and will appear in the near future, a new package of arms aid to Ukraine and even sobering up of Kremlin’s sympathizers in exchange for Kadyrov’s [the head of the Chechen Republic – ed.] tears (which is an oxymoron). All this is just the beginning.

And yet, the stakes in this war have been raised.

The threat of the use of nuclear weapons or, at least, a terrorist attack at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is now quite probable, especially after Russia blew up its gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea. If they [Russians – ed.] are capable of one thing, they will not stop before the other. After all, holy war has been declared to the West, and if the West does not recognize Russia as great, then let it not look for the guilty – this is the logic of the Kremlin dwarf. The dictator does not want to go alone, and he does not want to go defeated. It seems that he wants a monument near the Kremlin wall, and for this, he should kill at least as many people as Lenin or Stalin, in the worst case – Vyshinsky, Dzerzhinsky or Zhukov. I wonder, what is the “passing score” for this cemetery?

However, we will leave it to specialists from Russia to assess what is happening inside this very unevenly populated space. It is equally important how Putin’s actions are assessed in the international arena. So far, not a single voice “for” has been heard, even Moscow’s friends have so far refrained from expressions of joy. The position is unambiguous in the state of democratic countries: referendums and recognition of the independence of the territories of a sovereign state are a violation of international law, they are null and void from any side and in any legal system. Japan was among the first to categorically reject the Kremlin’s actions.

This is not surprising, because we have not forgotten and will not forget the annexation of four of the Kuril Islands by Stalin, contrary to international law. The current Japanese government declared sovereignty over these islands, after which Russia withdrew from the peace treaty negotiations. Tokyo has already imposed fourteen packages of sanctions against individuals and legal entities of the Russian Federation, and the Russian government has declared Japan an “unfriendly country.” Tokyo’s position is very important because only Japan has a territorial dispute with Russia among the most developed countries.

If we talk about the perception of the war against Ukraine abroad, Japanese society should be recognized as one of the most complex and controversial in this respect.

Taking into account the fact that Japan will preside over the “Big Seven” in 2023 and be elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2023-2024, it is important to understand what ideas about the war in Ukraine are guided by the political elite of Japan. On the one hand, they are fully aware of their responsibility to the world community, and on the other hand, they cannot fail to listen to the voice of the people. Fortunately, authoritative opinion polls show that 85% of Japanese people support Ukraine, and it is their opinion that the government relies on when looking for opportunities to provide assistance to Ukraine.

However, there are many nuances, neglecting which can complicate the decision-making necessary to curb the aggressor.

Let’s start with the fact that supporting Ukraine and negatively perceiving everything Russian are things that differ slightly for different social groups. Having survived the tragedy of the Second World War, the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan adopted not only the most peaceful Constitution in the world but also the concept of educating society in the spirit of rejection of war, violence and conflicts. Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan states: “Sincerely striving for international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of nations, and the threat or use of armed force as a means of settling international disputes.”

The very word “war” in Japan is preferred not to be used, and if they have to say “no to war”, they will rather say “yes to peace”. It is under this slogan — “peace for Ukraine” — massive campaigns are being held to collect funds and mobilize aid both for those Ukrainians who evacuated to Japan (about 1,800 people, not including students who came to study under other programs), and for those who are currently in Poland, Romania or Moldova. The main recipient of government aid is, of course, the state and public structures of our country, including the Ministries of Defense, Internal Affairs, Finance, and other ministries and departments, while the public helps humanitarian foundations and organizations. The peculiarity of Japan is its dedication to multilateral aid formats: through UN structures, and international financial and humanitarian institutions.

Citizens of Japan, whose relatives went through Stalin’s camps in Siberia after the Second World War, remember their stories about the horrors they had to endure. As well as the relatives of the Japanese evicted from the Northern territories, who are humiliated each time receiving permission from the authorities of the Russian Federation to visit the graves of their loved ones who remained in Iturup or Shikotan. This category of Japanese citizens has no illusions or sentiments about Moscow. However, there are many Japanese who love various arts, studied in Moscow – some music, some ballet, and are still nostalgic for Sergei Rachmaninoff [Russian composer – ed.]. However, the situation is changing here as well: recently, nine people, including relatives of the musicians, came to a musical evening organized in Tokyo by the Russian Embassy for Japanese musicians who perform music by Russian composers.

Fishing near Sakhalin and the islands of the Kuril Chain is important for Japan, as well as some areas of business with the Russian Federation, in particular the purchase of liquefied gas. Instead, Russia buys used Japanese cars in large quantities, which the Japanese dream of getting rid of.

Japan is well aware of the aggressive nature of Putin’s regime. But at the same time, China and North Korea are seen as a more real threat. Today, the government’s focus on revising outdated documents concerning ensuring national security, as well as a large-scale increase in defense spending are on political agenda. The main one mentioned is the National Security Strategy, adopted (for the first time!) in December 2013. Before this strategy appeared, post-war Japan (surprisingly) had no comprehensive national security strategy, except for the “Basic Directions of National Defense Policy” of 1957.

The 2013 strategy declared a course for active pacifism based on international cooperation and contains a thesis on the need to strengthen one’s defense potential and cooperation with allies, the number one of which is the United States. At the same time, the National Security Council was established in Japan.

The principles of the transfer of defense equipment were defined only in 2014 (until then there was a de facto ban on the export of weapons, the consequence of which was the impossibility of joint international production). At the same time, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to partially cancel the ban on the use of the right to collective self-defense. It is therefore not surprising that in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, Japan did not take active measures to punish the aggressor, limiting to only very modest sanctions against a number of individuals of the Russian Federation, although, of course, it condemned the aggression.

It should be admitted that China and North Korea were considered the main threat, and anti-missile defense tasks were in the focus from then until February 2022, when discussing defense and security issues. Only recently, public opinion began to lean towards the view that it is not necessary to strictly adhere to the doctrine of exclusively defensive actions. It is important to have the means for the counterattack, and not only against enemy bases, so as not to give the enemy any reason to even dream of attacking. In other words, the opinion began to lean in favor of the deterrence potential. Russia also appeared among the threats to Japan.

Japan is only beginning to realize its own vulnerability to simultaneous attacks from several directions. For example, this year Japan began to think seriously about building shelters for civilians. Japan is actively cooperating with the United States, India and Australia within the framework of QUAD, as well as developing bilateral cooperation with the countries of the region, trying to maximize multilateral security mechanisms in Asia. It should be admitted that Japan is in the most difficult situation in terms of ensuring its own security among the developed countries of the world.  Experts are talking about this more and more loudly, and the louder it is, the more often there are escalations in the Taiwan Strait, and Kim Jong-un launches another ballistic missile.

The events in Ukraine were perceived in Japan as a flagrant violation of international law, the UN Charter and the obligations of the country, a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Japan is closely monitoring the course of hostilities, is a participant in the Rammstein format, and is providing the assistance that is possible and necessary today. Meanwhile, there are still many areas in which the additional disclosure of Japan’s leading role is in our common interests. We are talking about the reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure, the mobilization of donors of the reconstruction fund, which is expected to be created at the end of this year or in the spring of next year in one form or another, and decisive steps to eradicate nuclear terrorism.

Statements and condemnation have already exhausted their potential. The darker the night becomes in the Kremlin, the brighter the light that diffuses it should be. The next year has every sign of being decisive in eradicating the evil called “rashism” and in punishing the aggressor who brought the world to the brink of the Third World War, a nuclear war. Japan has the potential and is fully capable of initiating fair solutions that will restore peace to Europe and thereby strengthen peace in Southeast Asia. Both are in our common interests.

Sergiy Korsunsky, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Japan, originally posted on ZN.ua. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

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