I have never been able to feel any sense of affinity with the political leaders of Russia, let alone those of the former Soviet Union. The reason why may be illustrated by the following incident, which occurred when Nikita Khrushchev was the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and head of state.
In early May 1962, then Agriculture Minister Ichiro Kono went to Moscow for Japanese-Soviet fishery talks, and I accompanied him as a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun. Representing the Soviet government in the talks to determine the catch quota were Deputy Prime Minister Anastasii Mikoyan and Fisheries Minister Aleksandr Ishikov.
As had been the case in the past, the negotiations ran into an impasse due to the unreasonable position taken by Moscow. Kono asked Soviet authorities to provide him with an opportunity to meet with Khrushchev. According to normal diplomatic practice, the Soviet side would have responded by specifying a time and place for the meeting. This time, however, Kono received no reply, and began to grow irritated, even though such a response was by no means unusual for the Soviet government.
If two nontotalitarian governments had been negotiating with each other, that kind of request would have been responded to promptly in order not to create tension. The Soviet Communist Party, however, paid no attention whatever to how the Japanese side felt, and Kono’s request continued to go unanswered. As one of the reporters accompanying him, I was keenly interested in whether and when the two would meet.
One day, no session was scheduled as the fishery talks had hit a snag. So I and other reporters asked Kono and members of his entourage if he was going to meet with Khrushchev. Kono and his team did not think the meeting would take place that day, so he was relaxing in his hotel room.
Suddenly, however, he received a phone call telling him to come to the Kremlin immediately as Khrushchev wanted to see him. Surprised, Kono rushed to the Kremlin.
What the Soviets did looked to me like a surprise attack on Japan, because they never cared what the other side was doing. It was lucky that Kono happened to be at his hotel at the time of the phone call. Had he been elsewhere, he would have missed the opportunity of meeting with Khrushchev.
This incident led me to form the impression that the Soviet Union was a selfish and unfriendly country, an impression that remains strong in my mind. Such an act would have been regarded as discourteous in Japan, but was nothing abnormal in the Soviet Union.
On April 13, 1941, during the reign of Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka signed a Japan-Soviet treaty of neutrality, following the abrogation of the Japan-U.S. treaty of commerce. The new treaty was to be valid for five years.
On Aug. 8, 1945, however, Josef Stalin ordered a full-scale attack on the Imperial Japanese Army stationed in Manchuria, clearly in violation of the bilateral neutrality treaty as well as international law. The Soviet declaration of war against Japan was issued at midnight on Aug. 8. To the Soviet Union, international treaties meant nothing compared to the selfish pursuit of its national interests. The man who acted in this manner was the same Stalin who had been delighted by Matsuoka’s proposal for the neutrality treaty, had hugged him and had declared that he, Stalin, was also an Asian.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin made an official visit to Tokyo. Just prior to that, he told reporters in Sakhalin that he knew only that there was a territorial issue.
Had it not been decided by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and former President Boris Yeltsin that the two countries would resolve the territorial disputes and conclude a peace treaty by the end of the year 2000? It is only reasonable to assume that what was agreed to by his predecessor is binding on Putin.
What Putin said in Sakhalin, and also in his talks with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori Sept. 4-5, represented the same way of thinking displayed by Stalin when he openly violated the Japan-Soviet neutrality treaty.
These episodes suggest that the Russian people’s contempt for Japan has not changed. The Russians apparently have no intention whatever of returning the four northern islands to Japan. The people and the government of Japan must act with unfailing patience in demanding that Russia return those islands in the spirit of justice and international law.
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