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Russian envoy: Japan should distance from West if it wants two islands

  • April 1, 2019
  • , AERA , p. 66-67
  • JMH Translation

Interviewed by Makoto Ohira


The leaders of Japan and Russia agreed at their summit talks held in November 2018 to accelerate negotiations on the Northern Territories issue based on the Japan-Soviet joint declaration of 1956. This boosted expectations for a resolution to the territorial dispute, but negotiations are again hitting snags. How will Russia handle this? And, what is happening in Crimea with the lapse of five years since the Ukraine crisis? Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin, who spent his childhood in Japan along with his father’s posting to Japan as a diplomat and developed a good command of Japanese after serving in Japan four times, answered these questions in an 80-minute-long, exclusive interview with AERA.


Japan’s participating in sanctions against Russia hampers territorial negotiations


Q: There seems to be no solution in sight over the issue involving the four islands.


Ambassador Galuzin: President Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have now agreed to accelerate negotiations, so people in Japan are saying Japan should seek a so-called “two-plus-alpha” solution, which calls for the prompt handover of Habomai and Shikotan Islands. But what is important is to abide by the joint declaration in its entirety.


The joint declaration refers to two islands in Article 9, which is a part of the entire document. Article 1, which represents the basic spirit of the declaration, clearly states that “peace as well as friendship and good-neighborly relations should be restored.” The U.S. and other Western nations have invoked sanctions on Russia by using the Crimean issue as an excuse. It is true that Japan follows suit, putting aside the argument of whether it is proactively doing so or not. I wonder if this reality is in compliance with Article 1. This runs counter to the spirit of building friendship and good neighborly relations.


Q: Do you mean that Japan’s participation in the sanctions imposed by former “Western bloc” nations is hindering efforts for a solution to the issue?


Ambassador Galuzin: Presently, the U.S., Japan’s key ally, is taking a hostility approach to Russia. It is also true that the U.S. deploys its troops throughout Japan and have missile defense facilities targeting Russia and China. It is obvious that we are facing a threat not from Japan but from the U.S. military presence in Japan. That is why [Japan] must make efforts to remove our concerns to lay the foundation for the conclusion of a peace treaty. Apart from it, bilateral trade between Japan and Russia amounted to 30 billion dollars ten years ago, but the volume has fallen to 20 billion dollars of late. Japan and Russia are not fully tapping their trade potential. Japan and Russia should also build friendly ties as economic partners.


Japan should accept the outcome of World War II


Q: What are the other elements that are important to lay the foundation for the conclusion of a peace treaty? 


Ambassador Galuzin: The most important of all for Japan and Russia in making mutually-acceptable conditions is that Japan must accept the outcome of World War II as is, just like other countries did. The outcome includes the legitimate transfer of sovereignty over Southern Kuril Islands (Northern Territories) to the Soviet Union, or Russia.


The historical background to this is that the Soviet Union allied with the U.K. and the U.S. to fight against Nazi Germany and clinched a victory. Unfortunately, Japan was on the loser side. In our four-year-long battle against Nazi Germany, 27 million Russians lost their lives and we lost a third of the people’s property.


Despite this history, we respect Japan’s public sentiment with the four islands. We understand Japanese people’s desire to visit the islands without visa, allowing the former residents of the islands to visit their ancestors’ graves and Japanese fishing boats to safely operate in the waters that belong to the four islands. That’s why we want the Japanese people to respect our feelings as well.


Q: Do you feel unconformable with the Japanese side using such expressions as “Northern Territories” and “return”?


Ambassador Galuzin: Of course we do. These terms sound unpleasant to us. The “handover” as stated in the 1956 declaration best describes our intention. It means that the Russian side will hand over as a gesture of goodwill. To make it happen, we must build an environment that is totally different from what we have today.


Western media falsifies fact as military annexation


Q: March 18 marked five years since the annexation of Crimea, which used to be a part of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine and the United Nations do not accept this.  


Ambassador Galuzin: Many western media outlets are making a false report to give the impression that Russia annexed Crimea by force. But this is not true and is a hoax.


In February 2014, the opposition leaders signed a deal with President Yanukovych to form a national unity government, but the following day they employed armed, neo-Nazi radicals to stage a military coup and captured the reins of government. They announced a series of repressive policies against 8 million ethnic Russians there, such as banning them to speak Russian. The armed group tried to march into Crimea under the slogan of “sweeping ethnic Russians from Crimea.”


Crimean residents and those who live in the eastern part of Ukraine did not accept this barbaric intent of Kiev. They declared independence as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and held a national referendum, in which 97% of voters approved independence from Ukraine and Ukraine’s integration into Russia. An international oversight body also confirmed that the referendum was conducted in a peaceful and democratic way and it was carried out in compliance with the international standard.


Let me make one comparison. When Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, no national referendum was conducted. Nonetheless, many UN members, including Japan, approved Kosovo’s independence.


Q: Is it true that there was no Russia’s military intervention in Crimea?


Ambassador Galuzin: Back then, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was deployed based on our formal accord with Ukraine. It’s true that we mobilized these forces but we acted in a way to protect Crimean residents from the armed group, which staged a military coup in Kiev and were sent to Crimea. In Kiev, many lives were lost, but in Crimea there was no armed clash nor open fire.


Crimea had been a part of Russia from the 18th century through the end of World War II, but the then Soviet leadership integrated it into Ukraine. As to why it happened and what was the background are not unraveled yet, but it is more accurate to say that with the latest reintegration, Crimea has finally returned to its homeland.


Western bloc opposes the rise of emerging nations


Q: Russia is not happy about the sanctions, is it?


Ambassador Galuzin: The sanctions invoked on Crimean residents by the Western nations are extremely irresponsible. The European Union does not issue a visa to Crimean people. This is the first-ever measure adopted against a specific region and people of specific ethnicity since Nazi Germany and runs counter to the spirit of democracy. It should be noted as an issue of grave concern.


Q: There should be reason for countries to take such action.  


Ambassador Galuzin: There are two trends in international relations and these trends are in conflict with each other. The first one is a multilateral mechanism. It is different from an international mechanism under a directive from one country, and countries make decisions based on consensus and do not interfere with each other. New entities that have a political, economic and militaristic influence are on the horizon, such as BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Eurasia Economic Union. Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa are beginning to play a proactive role.


On the other hand, the Western nations are strongly opposing this as they want to keep the existing mechanism and exercise control on international relations. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) maintains pressure on Russia. Under such circumstances, the policy of separating Russia and Ukraine had been in place for some time, and it culminated in the military coup in Kiev five years ago.


Q: What is the present situation in Crimea?


Ambassador Galuzin: Under the 23-year-rule of Ukraine, Crimea had been left behind in economic development and social welfare as well as infrastructure-building. Even tourism, the key industry, deteriorated. But today, lifeline services, which were cut off by Ukraine, and trade routes have been restored, and social and economic reconstruction are well underway. Besides Ukraine, Russian and Crimean Tatar are added as official languages and various steps are taken to protect the diversity of Crimean’s unique ethnicity. I want to encourage Japanese people to visit Crimea and see it firsthand.

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