The Russian military carried out a drill July 3-4 on Etorofu Island, off Hokkaido, ignoring a July 2 demand by Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada that it refrain from doing so there. Japan calls Etorofu and three other islands (including one islet group), northeast of Hokkaido, the Northern Territories, taking the position that they belong to Japan.

Tokyo lodged a protest against Moscow over the drill. As Mr. Okada said, the drill is extremely regrettable and one wonders why Russia conducted it at this time.

According to an announcement by the Russian Defense Ministry, some 1,500 soldiers and some 200 military and special-purpose vehicles took part in the drill, designed to besiege and destroy “unlawful forces.” A spokesperson for Russia’s Far East military district said the drill was “the largest-scale exercise held on the disputed islands since the collapse of the Soviet Union” in 1991. The drill was reportedly part of Russia’s Vostok (East) 2010 strategic exercise carried out in the territory of Siberia and the Far East from June 29 to July 8. According to ITAR-TASS, several tens of thousands of servicemen, up to 70 aircraft, 2,500 pieces of military hardware, arms and special equipment and up to 30 vessels took part in the exercise. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev watched part of the drill from aboard the nuclear-powered 24,300-ton Kirov-class battle cruiser Peter the Great. Russia may be trying to undermine Japan’s position in the territorial dispute.

A Russian Foreign Ministry official told ITAR-TASS that Russia “has the right to choose the place of the exercise.” Russia’s new military doctrine adopted in early February lists “territorial claims against the Russian Federation and its allies and interference in their internal affairs” as one of “the main external military dangers” to Russia. On July 7, in a somewhat malevolent move, the Duma passed a bill designating Sept. 2 the anniversary of the end of World War II. On that day in 1945, Japan formally surrendered to the Allied Powers.

Russia should realize that its behavior on Etorofu Island cannot have a positive effect on bilateral relations. Japan, for its part, should avoid responding emotionally and firmly maintain its official stand on its sovereignty over the Northern Territories.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.