The Impact of the Russia-Ukraine War on Moscow-Tokyo Relations

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Increasing tensions in the world today negatively affect the global system and economy in many ways. The economic problems that deepened with the Covid-19 pandemic led to the prominence of right-wing movements, populist discourses and aggressive policies. States have become more inclined to use hard power, even though they state that they are open to dialogue. In this context, differences are becoming more pronounced and the grounds for compromise are diminishing. The Russia-Ukraine War was the point where the growing tension and rivalry turned into a hot conflict. Moreover, the negative impact of the war environment led to a deepening of the problems.

The security dilemma created by rising tensions has shaped the threat perception of states and made regional competition more pronounced. In this process, a state that loses power and prestige has started to be seen as an easy prey. Therefore, the importance of hard power has increased for actors who think that they maintain their power. For these states, the idea that they can implement policies that they have not been able to implement for a long time with soft power has become stronger. On the other hand, weakened states have turned more towards hard power in order to show that they are still strong. This situation has led states, regardless of their political, economic and military capacities, to consider military means as a more reasonable option than in the past.

One of the most important rivalries today is between Russia and Japan. Moscow and Tokyo have held various contacts with the aim of resolving the issues between them and clarifying the situation of the disputed islands in the region. Especially during the term of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, various meetings were held between the parties. Despite Russia’s cold attitude, it was thought that an agreement on the disputed islands could be signed and perhaps some islands could be left to Japan.[1]

Despite the positive atmosphere between Russia and Japan, no compromise has been reached. In addition, military activities are intensifying in the region and tensions rise from time to time. For example, according to news reports in December 2020, Russia sent an S-300 air defense system to the Kuril Islands.[2] This is just one example of the militarization of the region. Russia has been sending weapons and conducting military exercises in the region despite Japan’s reaction.[3]

This tension intensified with the Russia-Ukraine War. As a matter of fact, it can be said that the relations between the two countries came to a breaking point as Tokyo joined the sanctions decisions taken against Moscow. Especially as a result of Russia’s military interventions against Japan, Tokyo decided to impose sanctions against Moscow. Russia included Japan on its list of “unfriendly countries” with a decision taken in March 2022.[4] In response, in April of the same year, the Tokyo administration made a new decision to revoke Russia’s title of “most favored country in trade status”.[5] Subsequently, Japan expanded the scope of sanctions against Russia and banned the export of certain technology products to Russia, including scientific research institutions.[6]

This tension between the states was reflected on the ground and led to an escalation of tensions in the region. In particular, Russia has intensified military exercises and expanded the scope of its activities on the islands claimed by Japan.

In March 2022, a comprehensive military exercise took place in eastern Russia, causing the world’s attention to focus on the east of Russia. 3,500 soldiers participated in the exercise, in which Moscow used Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-8 helicopters, Bastion-P coastal defense systems, T-72B3 tanks and Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles.[7] Despite suffering significant losses in Ukraine, Russia signaled that it can fight on two fronts with its military exercises in Japan.

The tension between the parties indicates that there is an important problem. This is because after the Russian-Ukrainian War, it was recalled that there were still sovereignty issues between the two countries and therefore no formal peace treaty had been signed, so the actors were technically at war.[8] Russia has increased its military presence in the region, deploying 320 Russian fighter jets, including long-range bombers. With this development, Russian air power in the region has reached the level of the Japan Air Self-Defense Forces.[9]

Russia blames Japan for the tensions in the region. Mikhail Galuzin, who was Russia’s ambassador to Tokyo in November 2022 and is now Russia’s deputy foreign minister, accused Tokyo, which had joined the sanctions against Moscow, of strained relations.[10]

As a result, Russia is acting on the basis of a technically unfinished war since no formal peace treaty has been signed with Japan. Considering Galuzin’s statement against Japan, Moscow is sending a message that the countries participating in the sanctions have determined their side. At this point, despite its various losses, the Kremlin is sending the message that it is still strong by organizing military exercises against states that have a negative attitude towards it. However, this may put a strain on Russia’s economy. Of course, the United States (US) stands to benefit the most from the escalation. This is because Japan plans to strengthen its military with US support.

[1] Ike Barrash, “Russia’s Militarization of the Kuril Islands”, CSIS,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[2] “Russia Deploys Missiles to Pacific Islands Claimed by Japan”, AP,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[3] “Japan Protests Russian Military Drills on Disputed Island”, The Moscow Times,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[4] “Russia Adds Japan to ‘Unfriendly’ Countries, Regions List in Sanctions Countermeasure”, The Mainichi,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[5] “Japan Formally Revokes Russia’s ‘Most Favored Nation’ Status”, Bloomberg,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[6] “Japan Announces Fresh Economic Sanctions Against Russia”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[7] “After Ukraine, Russia ‘Intimidates’ Japan With Massive Military Drills Using Su-35 Jets, Bastion-P Missiles, Orlan UAVs”, The Eurasian Times,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[8] Ross McGuinness, “Russia is Still Officially at War with Japan. Here’s Why”, Yahoo News,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[9] Junnosuke Kobara-Ryo Nakamura, “Russia Flexes Muscle Near Japan in Show of Two-Front Capability”, Nikkei Asia,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

[10] “Russian Ambassador Blames Japan for Strained Relations Between Other Countries”, PBS News Hour,, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).

Dr. Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı Dr. Emrah Kaya, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezundur. Yüksek lisans derecesini 2014 yılında Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde hazırladığı “Latin Amerika'da Sol Liderlerin Yükselişi ve Uluslararası Politikaya Etkisi: Venezuela-Bolivya Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Kaya, doktora derecesini de 2022 yılında aynı üniversitede hazırladığı "Terörle Mücadelede Müzakere Yöntemi: ETA-FARC-LTTE-PKK" başlıklı teziyle elde etmiştir. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Kaya'nın başlıca çalışma alanları; Orta Asya, Latin Amerika, terörizm ve barış süreçleridir.