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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Russia eyes defense cooperation with Japan to protect Arctic interests

  • November 15, 2018
  • , Sankei , p. 3
  • JMH Translation
  • ,

China is probably behind a recent deal clinched by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin to sign a peace treaty within three years, as the Asian nation has been increasingly active in broadening its interests in the Arctic Ocean. With Russia positioning the Arctic as an off-limit zone, it wants to strengthen its ties with Japan not only in the economic area but also in the defense area in an attempt to contain China.


Russia embarked on Arctic development from an early time. In 2011, it claimed that the central part of the Arctic Ocean belongs to its continental shelf. In 2016, it launched one of the world’s largest nuclear-powered icebreakers, and has since worked to build ports in the Arctic Ocean.


The rise of China is posing a threat to Russia’s interests. In January, China released its first white paper report encompassing Arctic policies. The white paper identifies Arctic shipping routes as a “Silk Road on ice” and showed a strong interest in developing natural resources and new transport routes there. In September, its first domestic-made “Xue Long” icebreaker took the water in Shanghai. It is also building up naval capabilities in the open sea.


Russia interprets any of these moves as a “challenge to its sanctuary.” Its deployment of surface-to-ship missiles in Etorofu and repeated missile firing drills are aimed at containing China.


Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) is a third of Japan’s and an eighth of China’s. Russia’s naval equipment is also becoming outdated. The dominant view is that “China has now outstripped Russia in naval power.” In order for Russia to protect its national interest in the Arctic Ocean, cooperation with Japan not only in the economy but also in the defense field is becoming crucial.  


“Out of consideration for Japan, we cancelled holding this year’s Vostok military drill in the Kuril Islands,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Self-Defense Forces Chief of Staff Katsutoshi Kawano when he visited Russia in October. This is probably seen as a signal that Russia sent to Japan that it wants to deepen its bilateral defense cooperation to protect its Arctic interests.” (Abridged)

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