The Ukraine Policy of Japan

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has stated that if the right conditions are met, he will consider visiting Kiev to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski.[1] Japan, which has provided humanitarian aid and arms and ammunition to Ukraine since the outbreak of the war, wishes to take this support to a higher level at this point. This visit has not been decided yet. However, the Tokyo administration is looking for ways to support Ukraine more and show its solidarity with the West.

Japan, which is considered one of the Western democratic countries, has had difficulty in developing policies related to the war and maintaining them consistently since the first day Russia attacked Ukraine. At first, Tokyo, which tried to show an impartial attitude and called on the parties to end the hostility, started to show its side by participating in the economic sanctions imposed by the West against Moscow as time passed. Thereupon, Russia stopped the peace negotiations with Japan due to the Kuril Islands Issue. As the justification for this, Moscow showed Tokyo’s participation in Western sanctions on Ukraine and its hostile attitude. With the complete breakdown of dialogue with Russia, Japan increased its support for Ukraine by integrating more into the West.

It can be argued that the pressures of Western countries and Kiev have been effective in the deterioration of Russia-Japan relations since the first days of the war. The ultimate goal here is to defeat Russia decisively in the war. For this, the West plans to support Ukraine militarily until the end. In addition to Europe, allies in Asia are requested to assist the West in this regard. The message the West gives to the world regarding the war in Ukraine is this: If Russia wins this war, it will set a bad example for all authoritarian governments in the world, and these regimes will try to expand their borders through hard power by following Moscow. Japan, which perceives threats from North Korea, China and Russia, also agrees with this view. If actors like Russia who disrupt the rules-based international order go unpunished, North Korea and China may find the courage to do the same against Japan in the future.

The reason why Tokyo reiterated its support for Western actors in the war in Ukraine is the ever-growing security problems in its immediate vicinity. In the long run, Japan, which expects support from the West in the face of these risks, feels obliged to give more support to Kiev on the other hand. Kishida’s thought of visiting Kiev is also related to this. Here, Japan mainly wants to give the message “We stand by the West”. Tokyo is not seeking further polarization with Moscow. But this visit will inevitably escalate tensions between Russia and Japan.

As a reminder, while the war in Ukraine was going on, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also visited Kiev. This visit was perceived as Britain’s challenge to Russia. Currently, Japan is trying to take the same step. Thus, Tokyo will become more involved in the West’s war against Russia. In fact, this is what the United States (USA) and Britain want. Defeat in Ukraine by making Russia turn its attention to the Far East. In this sense, Japan is positioned as a proxy actor in the war of Western powers, especially the USA and England, against Russia.

To further channel Japan into the war in Ukraine, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg visited Tokyo on January 31, 2023.[2] Stating that Europe’s security is closely linked to the Far East, Stoltenberg,[3] reminded the security threats facing Japan and asked for support from Tokyo. It is also possible to interpret this as the West’s bargain with Japan. Therefore, NATO may give certain security-protection guarantees to Japan in exchange for support for Ukraine.

The reason why Tokyo is so willing and brave to support Kiev is the security agreements with Washington. Japan knows that Russia will not attack it because of the support of the USA. Therefore, Kishida thinks that there will be no negative consequences to provoke Moscow further by visiting Kiev.

In the Indo-Pacific, as the US prefers, it is difficult to find another actor in the Indo-Pacific, other than Japan, which openly supports Ukraine. For this reason, these brave moves of Japan, which is so close to the “threats of China and Russia”, are appreciated by NATO. The next step is to establish a collective defense alliance in the Indo-Pacific or to create an integrated deterrence with NATO. In the first place, NATO, which strives to strengthen the dialogue with Japan, South Korea and India, desires to establish new partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. Japan is also the main pillar of this initiative.

It would not be correct to evaluate Japan’s Ukraine policy independently of the general trend about Russia in the international public opinion. While Russia’s closest allies, including India and China, want the war in Ukraine to end as soon as possible; The West sees itself as an advantage in this war. In other words, with the latest weapons aid from the West, the belief that Ukraine will win this war has increased. Tokyo, on the other hand, reiterates its support for the winning side and plans to make significant gains after the war. This is similar to the situation of countries that symbolically participated in the war towards the end of the great world wars and thus had the opportunity to benefit from American aid.

If Japan, South Korea and India do not support Ukraine in the current circumstances, they may not receive the help they expect from the West when threats from Taiwan or North Korea turn into war in the near future. In particular, Japan, which does not have an army, needs NATO’s deterrence as well as security guarantees from the United States. It seems unlikely that Japan would be able to withstand the wars in the Indo-Pacific without the support of the West. Therefore, Tokyo feels obliged to support Kiev.

[1] “Japan PM Kishida to Consider Visiting Ukraine If Right Conditions Met”, Kyodo News,, (Date of Accession: 01.02.2023).

[2] “NATO Chief Urges Closer Ties with Japan to Defend Democracy”, ABC News,, (Date of Accession: 01.02.2023).

[3] Ibid.

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.