Issue BriefsPublished on Sep 14, 2023 PDF Download
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

Territorial Disputes: Can Japan and Russia Reconcile?

The Ukraine crisis may have effectively ended the rapprochement between the US
and Russia, and in turn affecting relations such as those of Japan and Russia. Prior to this crisis,
and the subsequent Western sanctions on Russia, Tokyo and Moscow had been reaching out to
each other, and hope flickered for a resolution to the territorial dispute over the Northern
Territories or Southern Kurils. This paper argues that with nationalist governments in power in
Russia and Japan, the time is ripe for resolving the dispute. The conflict in Syria has also shaped
the possibility that the West and Russia could cooperate once again, thus easing pressure on
Japan-Russia ties. India, which shares cordial ties with both countries, should carefully watch the
new dynamics in Russia-Japan relations.

There is an unprecedented diffusion of power in many parts of the world. This owes to various factors such as the relative decline of the US, the rapid economic and military growth of China, the Ukraine crisis and subsequent sanctions on Russia, and the expected emergence of India as a strong power. There is also the growing power of the Internet and the rise of non-state actors, all of which contribute to the changes in geostrategic patterns that, in turn, influence bilateral and multilateral relations. While there has been extensive examination of the relations between major powers, no parallel focus has been paid to the state of interactions between Russia and Japan. Relations between these two nations are important because while Japan is an ally of the US, relations between Russia and the West have turned sour. Russia, for its part, has forged closer ties with China, and this in turn is emerging as a major strategic challenge for the US. On the other hand, bilateral relations between China and Japan have been extremely tense in the last few years, particularly due to China’s assertive behaviour in the East China Sea. Thus, relations between Tokyo and Moscow are a key component of global power dynamics.

The Russo-Japanese relationship carries strategic significance for India as both nations are important partners for New Delhi. Japan’s significance to India can be seen in the 2014 Tokyo Declaration which elevated their relationship to that of a ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership.’ India under the Modi Government also altered its long-standing ‘Look East Policy’, enhancing it to the ‘Act East Policy’.

As for India-Russia relations, not many countries can match the enduring partnership that the two have shared since the 1960s. Today the deep-seated traditional ties are based primarily on defence cooperation, with a number of high-profile defence production projects on the anvil. Moreover, during the Ukraine crisis, India refrained from backing sanctions against Russia. It must be noted, however, that despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Moscow as India’s closest friend, Moscow’s growing relations with China and Pakistan are being watched closely by India. Moscow’s relations with Islamabad and Beijing have the ability to determine Indo-Russian ties, as well as the kind of influence India would have in the South Asian region. It thus becomes more important to study the relationship, considering that Moscow and Tokyo are starting to review the status of their relationship, albeit in a tentative manner.

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Vindu Mai Chotani

Vindu Mai Chotani

Vindu Mai Chotani is a PhD scholar at the Graduate School of Public Policy University of Tokyo. She is also a teaching fellow for the ...

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Uma Purushothaman

Uma Purushothaman

Dr Uma Purushothaman teaches International Relations at the Central University of Kerala. She was earlier associated with Observer Research Foundation. Her areas of interest include ...

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