Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 175

The spy row which erupted between Japan and Russia earlier this month appears to have had its greatest immediate impact on military contacts between the two countries. Officials from Japan’s Defense Agency announced on September 14 that they were postponing two major events in this area: a planned visit to Japan by a Russian military delegation which was to have been headed by a top Ground Forces commander, Russian Colonel General Yury Burkeeev; and a planned ten-day visit to Russia by some thirty Japanese military officers. Both visits were to have begun this week. The Japanese announcement came one week after the September 7 arrest of Shigehiro Hagisaki, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies, on charges that he has passed classified information to the naval attache at the Russian embassy (see the Monitor, September 11). The Japanese announcement also came a day after Russian military authorities had confirmed that the military exchanges between the two countries would go ahead as planned, despite the spy row. The Japanese action has apparently also thrown into doubt a planned November visit to Japan by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev.

Russian military and diplomatic officials expressed some surprise over the postponements. A Defense Ministry spokesman was quoted on September 15 as saying that the Japanese move would slow down the expansion of contacts between the defense establishments of the two countries. He said that the blame for this would lie squarely with Tokyo. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov expressed “regret and bewilderment” over the postponements, and suggested that they were particularly discordant because they came so soon after President Vladimir Putin’s September 3-5 visit to Tokyo. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, meanwhile, reportedly asked the Japanese government to deal with the espionage row in a more subdued fashion. In talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono at the UN in New York, Ivanov reportedly urged Tokyo to deal with the spy wrangle behind closed doors. “We should try to prevent [the case] from hurting our sound relations,” Ivanov was quoted as saying (Russian agencies, September 15; Reuters, Japan Times, September 16).

Both Ivanov and Kono reportedly agreed in New York that the spy row should not be allowed to harm their countries’ efforts at concluding a peace treaty and resolving the Kuril Islands territorial row. The Japanese postponement of the military meetings, however, will undoubtedly generate increased speculation that Tokyo is acting out of pique at the results of Putin’s summit talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. During the talks Putin formally rejected an earlier Japanese proposal aimed at ensuring the ultimate return of the four disputed Kuril Islands–called the “Northern Territories” in Japan–to Japanese sovereignty. Putin’s rebuff of Tokyo’s plan dashed hopes in Japan that the islands row might finally be resolved in its own favor. It also appeared to guarantee that the two countries would unable to finalize a peace treaty by the end of this year, as Japanese government leaders in particular had been hoping to do. Russian commentators had charged in the immediate aftermath of Hagisaki’s well-publicized arrest that Japanese leaders had instigated the spy row in order to punish Moscow for failing to make concessions on the territorial issue (see the Monitor, September 11).