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Ukraine envoy to Japan warns of ‘butterfly effect’ on global security amid Russia tensions

  • January 26, 2022
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press



The ongoing crisis in Ukraine will have “a butterfly effect” on global security — including implications for China, Taiwan and Japan — Kyiv’s ambassador to Tokyo said Wednesday.


“What is going on in Europe and Eastern Europe and Central Europe is not just about Ukraine,” Ambassador Sergiy Korsunsky said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. “It will definitely affect the global arena … as far as Japan, 10,000 kilometers away.”


Russia has sent an estimated 100,000 troops to its borders with Ukraine and even to Belarus, effectively encircling its neighbor from three sides. The U.S. and other Western states fear Moscow is looking to seize at least parts of Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014 to annex the Crimean peninsula.


U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday in Washington that if Russian leader Vladimir Putin were to move in with his amassed forces, “it’d be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world.”


Russia — which views Ukraine as a crucial buffer between it and NATO countries — has denied that it is planning an attack and claims the crisis is being driven by NATO and U.S. moves. It is demanding security guarantees from the West, including a promise that the security bloc never admit Ukraine as a member.


Still, Korsunsky said he saw little chance of all-out war.


“I believe that full-scale war is very, very, very difficult to expect, but we may see more localized conflict,” Korsunsky said, adding that Ukraine is committed to seeking a diplomatic resolution to the tensions with Russia.


“If we come to military terms, let me tell you, we are very much ready, our army is very well prepared.”


Asked about the U.S. response to the Ukraine crisis and its parallels with the Taiwan issue, Korsunsky acknowledged some similarities, saying that it is “a matter of principle” that force should not be used to “change borders of other nations.”


China claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory and has ramped up military and diplomatic pressure on the self-ruled island in recent years. China’s moves — including the dispatch of warplanes near Taiwan — have unleashed a flood of concern in both Washington and Tokyo and raised the specter of a military miscalculation.


Korsunsky said allowing Russia to run roughshod over Ukraine without a firm response would open the door to similar moves across the globe that undermine international law.


“If Russia is allowed to move forward with force, then we will see many more such examples in other parts of the world,” he said. “It’s not just about Taiwan. How about the Senkakus?”


The Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea have been a source of tension between Tokyo and Beijing, which also claims the uninhabited islets and calls them the Diaoyu. China has in recent years sent record numbers of government ships to the waters around the islands, stoking fears among some in Japan that it could be looking to seize them.


Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund think tank, said China was likely to be closely watching as the Ukraine crisis unfolds, “with particular interest in the degree of solidarity among the U.S. and its allies and their willingness to impose costs on Russia.”


“U.S. support for Ukraine will to some extent influence Chinese assessments of U.S. power and resolve, but I believe that (Chinese President) Xi Jinping will not draw any conclusions about U.S. willingness to defend Taiwan based on U.S. support — or lack thereof — for Ukraine,” she said.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno reiterated Wednesday that Tokyo and the United States would work together closely if Russia were to invade Ukraine.


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Biden discussed the issue during their virtual summit last week, pledging to take “strong action” with the international community in response to any attack. A senior White House official said after the meeting that Kishida had “made clear that Japan would be fully behind the United States” if it acted in response to a Russian invasion.


After the talks, the Russian Embassy in Tokyo on Saturday lambasted Japan over its statement at the meeting, calling it “unacceptable, senseless and counterproductive for the atmosphere of Russian-Japanese relations.”


Biden said Tuesday that he would consider slapping personal sanctions on Putin if Moscow invades Ukraine. Hitting a foreign leader with sanctions would be unusual, though in the past the U.S. has done so with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and others.


Japan would be unlikely to target Putin personally, since such a move would risk the progress Tokyo has made toward sealing a formal treaty ending World War II and a settlement over Moscow-held islands off Hokkaido that were seized by Russia following Tokyo’s surrender.

Japan could, however, be amenable to broader, targeted measures, observers say.


Korsunsky said that Japan could play “a very, very important role” since it is the only Asian country that is part of the Group of Seven and the only one to sanction Russia in 2014 over its moves in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Kishida, as foreign minister at the time, announced those measures.


Beyond sanctions, the ambassador also noted the symbolic role Japan could play amid the crisis by continuing to invest in his country.

“For us the best support from Japan could come from the economic side,” Korsunsky said. “Many countries in the world look at Japan’s reaction to the situation. If Japan would go forward with economic development that would be a signal for many other countries that it’s OK to work with Ukraine.”

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