EDITORIAL | Putin steps up its maritime strategy of territory thefts

Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he continued his invasion of Ukraine, said in a July 31 Navy Day speech that the waters around Japan’s Northern Territories are “strategically important to our national interests”.

He went on to say that Moscow “would use all possible means to resolutely defend the area.”

Seventy-seven years ago, on August 9, 1945, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin unilaterally broke the neutrality pact between Japan and the USSR (1941), illegally seizing a group of four northern islands of Japan – Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai Islands – after a brutal attack just like the invasion of Ukraine. Russia now calls the islands its Southern Kuril Islands.

Mr. Putin’s bold insistence on “resolutely defending the region” shows that he is nothing but a remorseless thief. His words reveal the sheer anarchy of the Russian state.

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Russia’s New Maritime Doctrine

Mr. Putin’s speech in late July followed his signing of a new maritime doctrine which states: “The main threats to Russia in terms of maritime security are the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)”.

In his speech, he asserted dogmatically that the new doctrine “clarifies important areas from the point of view of defending our national interests”.

Putin cited the Arctic Ocean, the Baltic Sea and the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, as well as the Black Sea Strait where Russia aimed to deprive Ukraine of control of its coastal waters. Then he added the “Kuril Islands”, including the Northern Territories of Japan.

Japan and Ukraine, whose territorial lands and waters have been eroded over generations by the two dictators, must deepen their solidarity and unity and continue their urgent calls for the international community to condemn Russia’s injustices.

In the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow intensified its self-centered posture. Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev informed Japan in March of Russia’s unilateral suspension of negotiations on a bilateral peace treaty. He then lashed out at Tokyo, saying Moscow was on the verge of “owning the Southern Kuril Islands” by developing independent development and investment projects there.

For the first time on March 9, the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, Russia held a military parade on Etorofu, one of the four Japanese islands under Russian control. From late August and beyond, the Russian military plans to conduct large-scale exercises in the Far East, including on the islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri. The Chinese military is also expected to participate.

Great maritime ambitions

Russia’s new maritime security doctrine reveals Moscow’s ambition to become a “great maritime power”. It calls for increasing Russia’s naval supply bases throughout the Asia-Pacific region to the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, while strengthening naval construction, including aircraft carriers, in the Far East.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin reviews warships ahead of the main naval parade marking Russian Navy Day, July 31, 2022. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

However, the new doctrine has hints of Russia’s bravado as it struggles in the war against Ukraine. Putin said in his announcement that Russia would begin full-fledged deployment of Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles aboard Russian Navy ships in a few months. He then preemptively threatened, saying, “We stand ready to respond quickly to anyone who attempts to undermine our sovereignty and freedom.”

His threats cannot be ignored.

International collaboration of democracies

Mr. Putin’s desire to vigorously defend the waters around the Northern Territories, the continuation of the war against Ukraine and the new maritime doctrine are all challenges intended to provoke Japan, the United States and Europe.

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In response, and to prepare for Putin’s threat, the democracies of these three regions must strengthen their collaboration both in the military spheres and in the sharing of information.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun

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