This week, during talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to sign the peaceful Russian-Japanese treaty by the end of this year without preconditions. Shinzo Abe supported the very idea of establishing de jure peace between Russia and Japan, but the Japanese Foreign Ministry opposed it, stressing that Tokyo has no intention of abandoning its territorial claims to the Kuril Islands. The deputy director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies of Moscow State University, Andrei Karneev, told Vestnik Kavkaza about the prospects of the Russian-Japanese peace treaty.
- In your opinion, why was the peace treaty initiative with Japan voiced now?
- I watched a live broadcast on TV, and I saw that it was the president's response to the Japanese prime minister when he begin to harp on his favourite tune that the peace treaty has not been signed yet, so many years have passed since the Second World War, and it should be signed as soon as possible. And then Putin said that this idea has just come into his head during the Japanese Prime Minister's speech - to sign a peace treaty this year to normalize relations, and then it will be possible to conduct all other negotiations in a more favorable atmosphere. That is, it is not so much an initiative as a witty thought of our president, who reacted to Shinzo Abe's words in such a way. He said that the Japanese call us to new approaches all the time, so here's a new approach: let's conclude a treaty first, and then everything else.
Putin's idea is linked to the fact that the Japanese continue to put the issue of the peace treaty at the forefront, while trying to limit other issues of Russian-Japanese relations to Russia's concession on this issue. Putin in a living and unconventional form showed that, in fact, Japan's position is not very constructive and too dogmatic, because they themselves do not offer anything new. That's how I would interpret his proposal.
- Thus, any assessment of Putin's proposal as a new reversal from the West to the East is hasty?
- There is no connection between the Japanese and the Western agenda. Our relations with the West have deteriorated in 2014 after the sanctions were imposed, though they have been deteriorating long before the Ukrainian events. Putin's words spoken at the Eastern Economic Forum did not imply any concessions to Japan in the sense that we have problems with the West, let's draw closer to Japan right now. On the contrary, Putin's improvisation showed the Japanese colleague's not quite constructive position, it had no anti-Western element. Some of our mass media rushed to announce that the president had introduced a new concept, but these were erroneous interpretations, since they do not correspond to the general policy of our government on the issue of the Kuril Islands and Japan. Putin's words did not create any new situation. By the way, then during free discussion the president offered several similar ideas to Shinzo Abe again, for example, about five-ten year visas.
- Will a peace treaty with Japan bring Russia any political and economic benefits?
- Of course, relations with Japan are very useful to us precisely because Japan can be one of those countries that will actively participate in the economic recovery of Russia's Far Eastern territories. And in this sense it is important that Japan has technologies. On the other hand, about 20 years ago our expectations were not quite realistic that if we agree with Japan, there will be a rain of gold for Russia. These moods were fueled by some publicists, but even then they were in the minority. Japan lost its leadership role in region to China, China is already a much larger economic power than Japan. 20 years ago, Japan was the world's second largest economy behind the U.S., but now it lost its position. Therefore, by the way, any talk that we will immediately get a huge economic effect after making concessions to Tokyo are far from reality. Japan has its own interests.
We must strive to create even more constructive relations with Japan, but we should not hope for miracles and breakthroughs. First of all, we should rely on our own resources and strengths, its competent and effective use, not on some mythical possible investments. Moreover, I want to note that if the Kurile Islands issue is resolved somehow, it is unlikely that Japan will have a great incentive to actively provide economic assistance to our Far East, with the exception of having mutually beneficial ties. They will cooperate with Russia in areas where they will spot profit opportunities, but not much else - and it should be understood with a sense of composure and calm.