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Japanese Ambassador to Russia Kozuki likely to be replaced this autumn

It is rumored that Japanese Ambassador to Russia Kozuki Toyohisa (65 years old; joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1981) will be replaced this autumn. Having worked for seven years as Japan’s top diplomat in Moscow since 2015, he is the longest-serving Japanese ambassador to Russia in the postwar period.


Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles Muto Akira (62; joined MOFA in 1985) and former Director-General of the European Affairs Bureau Uyama Hideki (59; joined MOFA in 1988) are said within MOFA to be candidates to succeed Kozuki. Both are members of MOFA’s so-called Russian school. But whoever becomes the next ambassador, the Japan-Russia relationship has been soured by a “war of sanctions” since Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia has designated Japan as a “non-friendly nation” and been retaliating against Japan by imposing more sanctions. Whoever succeeds Kozuki as ambassador will face a grueling mission.


Kozuki is recognized, by both himself and others, as the ace diplomat in MOFA’s Russian school. While serving as director of the Russian Division in 2003, he was involved in the development of the Japan-Russia Action Plan signed by Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro and President Vladimir Putin. As director-general of the European Affairs Bureau, Kozuki accompanied Prime Minister Abe Shinzo on his first visit to Russia in 2013 and prepared the joint statement issued by the Japanese and Russian leaders.


In 2015, one year after Russia annexed Crimea, Kozuki was appointed ambassador to Russia by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, whose administration had long dreamed of concluding a peace treaty with Russia. Despite the high expectations that progress would be made, negotiations between Abe and Putin stalled. Kozuki failed to achieve results.


During the summit held in Singapore in November 2018, Abe suggested the two countries move forward with negotiations based on the 1956 Japan-Russia Joint Declaration, which says Habomai and Shikotan would be transferred to Japan [after a peace treaty is signed but makes no mention of the return of Kunashiri and Etorofu]. Japan thus made a drastic shift in policy, abandoning the government’s traditional policy of insisting on the return of all four islands and seeking the return of [only] two islands. But Russia took a tough stance and did not respond to Japan’s overture. A former MOFA official is critical: “The government didn’t have to change its policy and abandon the pursuit of the return of all four islands at all. If information gathering in Moscow were being done properly, it should have been clear that Russia had no intention of returning the two islands. The ambassador and the Japanese Embassy in Russia weren’t doing their jobs. They are responsible [for the failed talks].”


Kozuki has performed poorly since Abe resigned as prime minister. He attended an international economic forum in person in St. Petersburg in June last year and was infected with the new coronavirus. In October that year, his subordinate and third in command at the Embassy, Minister Miyamoto Tetsuji (leader of the political affairs group; 51; joined MOFA in 1993), suddenly passed away at a hospital in Moscow due to subarachnoid hemorrhage. In 2018, Miyamoto was suddenly appointed to the post of director of the Russian Division to succeed Mori Tadaatsu (currently minister at the Japanese Embassy in Australia; 53; joined MOFA in 1991), who was removed from the post after receiving a disciplinary punishment of nine months of suspension from duty on suspicion of sexual harassment. A MOFA source says Miyamoto was “distressed” because he was caught between the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] and Russia.


In April this year, Kozuki was showered with criticism after attending the wedding reception of Igor Butman, a famous saxophonist and close friend of President Putin, with his wife in formal attire. The 60-year-old billionaire bridegroom married a 28-year-old woman; it was his fourth marriage. The reception was attended by many Russian dignitaries who are sanctioned by the West. It was much talked about in Russia and received media coverage.


The reception was held right after it had come to light that the Russian military had massacred civilians in Bucha in the suburbs of Kyiv. A Ukrainian government official who learned of the attendance of Ambassador Kozuki and his wife reportedly lodged an informal protest against Tokyo. Further, Kozuki did not criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through the Russian media, while Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin fully engaged in diplomacy through anti-Japanese propaganda.


Though Prime Minister Kishida Fumio criticized the massacre in Bucha as a “war crime,” Kozuki took a pro-Russia stance. This makes Japanese diplomacy appear inconsistent. A media-outlet correspondent belonging to the MOFA Kasumi [Press] Club says: “Kozuki’s attendance at the wedding reception was criticized by the diplomatic corps of the Group of Seven (G7) countries. The Kantei has learned of the criticism and has hastily decided to replace Kozuki.”

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