Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
Historians identify the crushing victory of Japan over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 as the beginning of those countries' poor relations. After World War I, Japan took Vladivostok and held the key port for four years, initially as a member of the Allied interventionist forces that occupied parts of Russia after the new Bolshevik (see Glossary) government proclaimed neutrality in 1917. At the end of World War II, Stalin broke the neutrality pact that had existed throughout the war in order to occupy vast areas of East Asia formerly held by Japan. His action resulted in the incorporation of the entire Kuril Islands chain and the southern half of Sakhalin Island into the Soviet Union, and it created an issue that blocked the signing of a peace treaty and forging closer relations. In the Gorbachev era, relations thawed somewhat as high officials exchanged visits and the Soviet Union reduced its Far East nuclear forces and troops, but fundamental differences remained unchanged when the Soviet Union dissolved.
Since World War II, twin concerns have dominated Japanese relations with the former Soviet Union: the East-West Cold War and the so-called Northern Territories--the four southernmost Kuril islands--that the Soviet Union occupied under the terms of the Yalta Conference in 1945 and continued to occupy on grounds of national security. The dissolution of the Soviet Union initially raised Japanese expectations of a favorable resolution of the islands dispute and Russian hopes of significant Japanese economic aid and investment in return. But the return of the islands to Japan remained politically inadvisable for Soviet and Russian leaders throughout the first half of the 1990s.
Just before he became de facto president of Russia in 1990, Yeltsin had advanced a bold, five-point plan to deal with the territorial issue. After initially criticizing the plan, the Gorbachev government incorporated several of Yeltsin's recommendations into its foreign policy position. The plan envisioned several steps leading to a full peace treaty, without a firm Russian commitment to return the islands, and in 1992 the Russian Federation continued the discussions that the Gorbachev regime had initiated.
However, Japan refused to increase commercial activity with Russia until the countries resolved the territorial issue (by which Japan meant that Russia would recognize its sovereignty) and signed a peace treaty. Russia offered only to return two islands after a peace treaty was signed. In the meantime, Yeltsin's efforts to improve bilateral relations faced increased domestic criticism from hard-line legislators, regional officials in Russia's Far East, and elements within the military establishment. In 1992 this criticism culminated in Yeltsin's Security Council forcing an embarrassing, last-minute cancellation of a presidential trip to Japan. Russia's January 1993 foreign policy concept approached the problem only obliquely. It made an improved role in Asian geopolitics a top general priority and improved relations with Japan a primary specific goal in that process.
In 1993-96 Russo-Japanese relations showed signs of improvement, although there were also repeated setbacks as both sides proposed and then withdrew conditions. After postponing a second visit, Yeltsin finally made an official visit to Japan in October 1993. The resulting bilateral Tokyo Declaration represented some movement on both sides, but Russia's dumping of nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan and the issue of Japanese fishing rights off the Kuril Islands marred relations in the ensuing years. In 1995 the two sides came close to agreements on both issues--including Japanese aid to build sorely needed nuclear waste processing facilities in Russia's Maritime (Primorskiy) Territory--but the terms of the treatment plant remained mired in controversy, and continued Japanese violations stymied the fishing agreement in 1995 (see Environmental Conditions, ch. 3).
After two years of talks, in January 1996 Russia reached an agreement with Japanese and United States firms to build a liquid nuclear waste treatment ship with financing from Russia, Japan, and the United States. Negotiations over fishing rights remained deadlocked after a fifth round of talks ended in February 1996, and Russian border troops continued to fire on Japanese fishing vessels. The Russians protested a Japanese proposal to extend a 200-mile economic exclusion zone around its coastlines, in line with Japan's imminent ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea prescribing the limits of national coastline authority. Because of the proximity of the two countries, such a zone would include substantial Russian coastal waters. Meanwhile, the Kuril Islands issue remained unresolved in the first half of 1996, although at the Moscow G-7 meeting the two sides agreed to resume talks.
Other Asian States
The four major goals of Soviet policy in Asia were defense of the Soviet Union's eastern borders, including areas disputed with China, Japan, and Mongolia; maintenance of a set of alliances with key nations along the Asian periphery; improved relations with Western-oriented, relatively advanced states in order to obtain assistance in developing Siberia; and as much isolation as possible of China, South Korea, and the United States. In pursuit of these goals, the main instrument was the large Soviet military presence in Asia, which backed foreign policy assertions that the Soviet Union was an Asian power. In the late 1980s, Gorbachev sought to update this approach by improving relations with China, India, and Japan.
According to the 1993 draft foreign policy concept, Russia aimed to correct the imbalance in the former Soviet Union's East-West relations by paying greater attention to ties with Asian states. This view reflected the debate in Russian foreign policy between the westward-looking so-called Atlanticists and the so-called Eurasianists who would focus on relations with the near abroad and the wealthiest Asian states.
Reflecting the Eurasian alternative, the January 1993 concept called for a flexible policy of mutually beneficial relations with all the states of Asia, thus fostering good relations by reducing Russian military forces and cooperating with the United States and other regional powers to bolster security and regional stability. Such cooperation would include joint prevention of undesirable and unstable behavior, including organized crime and drug dealing. By following such a policy, Russia would come to be seen as an "honest prospective partner" in the region.
Some conservatives argued that the breakup of the Soviet Union pushed Russia geopolitically toward Asia because the great bulk of Russia's territory and resources are in its eastern regions and because the most European territories of the Soviet Union--Belarus, the Baltic states, and Ukraine--now were gone. Russian territory directly abuts three Asian powers: China, Japan, and North Korea. The security of the large populations of Russians remaining in Central Asia, which has an extensive border with China, were a continuing concern; thus, events such as changes in Chinese-Kazakstani relations have focused added Russian attention on Asia. Russia's relations with Mongolia, an adjoining state that moved decisively out of the Soviet sphere of influence in 1991, have been affected by separatism in areas of Russia bordering Mongolia.
Russia's presence and influence in Asia generally declined in the early 1990s. Elements of that movement were shifts of ethnic Russian populations away from areas near the Russo-Chinese border, growing anti-Russian sentiment in Vietnam, loss of Russian influence over an increasingly unpredictable North Korea, and a rapidly expanding, uncontrolled Chinese economic and even demographic influence in Russia's Far East. Russia soon took a series of measures to stem the erosion of its influence, including efforts to maintain and rebuild military ties with Vietnam and increased arms sales to China and Malaysia. In 1993 and 1995, Russia protested the failure of the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) to offer it membership, and it characterized the decision as a national insult.
Analysts interpreted the replacement of Kozyrev with Middle East specialist Primakov in early 1996 as marking a further tilt of Russian foreign policy toward the Eurasian emphasis. Early in his term, Primakov noted that his priorities would include reinforcing ties with the former Soviet republics and with such countries as China, Japan, and the Middle Eastern states. At the same time, Russia announced a new trade policy that called for increased commercial links with China, Pakistan, India, and South Korea, among other Asian nations. Yeltsin reaffirmed the new emphasis in his 1996 state of the federation speech. Economic interests played a large part in this change. In 1995 exports to Asian countries had increased to US$20 billion, more than one-quarter of Russia's total trade that year. Many Russian analysts observed that economically sound and technologically developed Asian states could provide markets, technology, and investments at advantageous terms.
Soviet policy in Southeast Asia, aimed at limiting the influence of China and eliminating the influence of the United States, was not especially successful in the 1970s. In 1978 support for Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia eliminated the pro-Chinese government of Cambodia, but it also pushed the member states of the pro-Western Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to cooperate more closely among themselves and with the United States. In the late 1980s, Russia established bilateral ties with ASEAN states as part of Gorbachev's revised Third World policies, which included improved relations with Asian nations of all economic descriptions.
In the early 1990s, Russia's efforts to improve relations with Vietnam met significant obstacles. In October 1993, the two sides discussed extending Russian use of the port at Cam Ranh Bay beyond its expiration date in the year 2005. Vietnam called for rental payments for use of the base, but the two countries reached no agreement. During Kozyrev's July 1995 visit to Vietnam, the two sides discussed enhancing bilateral and regional cooperation, which had reached a low level. Stumbling blocks to improved relations included Vietnam's repayment of its large debt to Russia, Russia's desire to repatriate many of the 50,000 to 80,000 Vietnamese guest workers stranded in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the status of Cam Ranh Bay. Vietnam also requested that Russia aid its army in modernizing itself as a counterweight to China, which remains a regional threat.
In the Soviet period, India was among the Third World states that responded the most positively to Soviet overtures, and the closeness of Indian-Soviet relations was a source of tension between China and the Soviet Union. In turn, the Soviet Union saw India as an important means of containing Chinese expansionism. Despite occasional declines, relations with India remained close through the end of the Gorbachev era, and India profited from abundant military and other foreign aid.
On a visit to India in January 1993, Yeltsin stressed that continued good relations were pivotal to Russia's balanced foreign relations, including its pro-Eastern policy. Although Russian trade with India had plummeted in the early 1990s, commercial relations recovered somewhat in 1994-95 following the establishment of an Indian-Russian Joint Commission. Much of the trade was linked to Indian repayment of past debts.
In March 1996, Primakov became the first Russian foreign minister to visit India. At that time, he termed India a priority partner, and he signed an agreement reestablishing the Soviet-era hot line communications link between New Delhi and Moscow. Primakov stressed that both Russia and India were seeking closer relations with China and that those new ties would not threaten the closer Russian-Indian ties.
Relations with communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea, defined clearly by the dichotomy of the Cold War, changed noticeably in the early 1990s. The January 1993 foreign policy concept endorsed the goal of a peaceful Korean unification to reduce regional instability on Russia's borders. Although the concept called for full ties with South Korea, which it described as sharing Russia's "basic values of world civilization," the concept also urged the maintenance of some levers of containment over North Korea to prevent that country from developing nuclear arms.
The Soviet Union's treaty ties with North Korea included the friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance treaty of 1961. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kozyrev indicated that many of the Soviet friendship treaties would be reevaluated, but at that time Russia did not renounce the pact with North Korea. In August 1995, Russia forwarded a new draft "friendly relations" treaty to North Korea that excluded a crucial provision calling for mutual military assistance in the case of attack. In April 1996, a Russian government delegation traveled to P'yongyang to discuss that proposal and to convince North Korea to halt bellicose moves along its border with South Korea.
North Korea's inconsistent positions on the issue of nuclear technology have been a major concern for Russia. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized North Korea's March 1993 announcement that it would withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and Russia subsequently supported the international community in urging North Korea to adhere to the NPT as a nonnuclear weapons power and to accept international inspections of its nuclear facilities. To ease the tension caused by the potential of nuclear weapons in the two Koreas, Russia called an international conference to declare the Korean Peninsula a nuclear-free zone. In October 1994, Russia endorsed a United States-North Korean agreement on halting North Korean nuclear proliferation while urging that Russian reactors be supplied to North Korea under the agreement. Moscow criticized the decision to supply South Korean reactors instead, and the new disagreement became another sore point in United States-Russian relations.
Other issues of conflict between Russia and North Korea were allegations of human rights violations against North Korean guest workers in Siberian forests and North Korea's unpaid debt to Russia of more than US$3 billion. In 1995 Russian conservatives urged renewal of arms sales and other ties with North Korea as a means of encouraging it to repay the debt.
On his 1992 visit to South Korea, Yeltsin signed the Treaty on Principles of Relations, which called for relations to be based on "common ideals of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, and the principles of a market economy." This treaty placed Russia in the unique position of having treaty ties with both North and South Korea, each based on fundamentally different principles. Russia and South Korea reportedly also discussed joint projects in natural gas exploitation and industrial development. In 1995 the two countries signed an agreement that alleviated a sore point in relations by authorizing Russia to partially repay its debt to South Korea in goods. Russian arms transfers have included T-80 tanks and BMP-3 armored fighting vehicles. South Korea is assisting in the development of an industrial park in the Russian city of Nakhodka, a port on the Sea of Japan that Russia has declared a free economic zone.
Data as of July 1996
NOTE: The information regarding Russia on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Russia Japan information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Russia Japan should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.