Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 146

The first ever exercises between the Russian and Japanese navies got underway in the Sea of Japan yesterday. The one-day drill, which took place some 250 miles east of Vladivostok, was a search and rescue exercise, involving three ships and seven aircraft from Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) and two ships and two aircraft from Russia’s Pacific Fleet. The Russian and Japanese ships are scheduled to visit Russia’s Pacific Fleet port at Vladivostok today. The Japanese vessels will depart for home tomorrow. A portion of yesterday’s exercises were canceled because of bad weather. (Itar-Tass, Kyodo, July 29)

Yesterday’s drill was agreed upon during last November’s summit meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and then Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The naval exercise has been portrayed by both sides as part of a more general effort to improve contacts between the Russian and Japanese militaries. That effort, in turn, is linked to a broader Japanese-Russian diplomatic initiative aimed at improving and fully normalizing bilateral relations.

According to sources from Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, however, the days and weeks leading up to yesterday’s exercise only highlighted the lack of mutual confidence still felt by both navies. In comments reported on July 28, the Japanese sources said that the MSDF had been reluctant to accept a Russian proposal calling for the Russian navy to command one portion of the drill, and the Japanese a second portion. Japan also reportedly rejected a separate Russian proposal that the two sides exchange officers on board each others’ ships during the drill. “Both of us still have Cold War wariness…[and] we don’t want to display our skills too much to each other,” one MSDF source was quoted as saying. (Kyodo, July 28)

If some low-level Cold War wariness was evident in the Japanese-Russian naval drills, passions of a considerably more political and public sort are building on the eve of a second sea rescue exercise–this time between the Russian and U.S. navies–scheduled to take place near Vladivostok on August 6. The Russian-U.S. exercise also involves the landing of U.S. marines in Ussuri Bay near Vladivostok.

Communist and other leftist organizations in the city began protesting the exercises yesterday at the U.S. consulate and plan to continue their protests today at the Pacific Fleet headquarters in Vladivostok. (NTV, July 29) On July 27, moreover, officials of the local branch of the Communist-led National Patriotic Forces Union vowed to block the Russian-U.S. exercises. A spokesman for the union called the marines’ landing a humiliation for Russia and linked it to what he said was a plan by “reactionary circles in the United States and NATO… to establish military control over Russia and its people.” He said that supporters of the union would form a human chain on August 6 in order to prevent the marines from landing. (Reuter, July 27; Russian agencies, July 28)