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29.03.2017 г.

Russian Foreign Policy Towards Japan: Domestic Factors

D.V. Streltsov

The article analyses the domestic factors of Russian foreign policy towards Japan. The decision-making in this sphere is viewed in terms of the role played by various actors, and the points of view existing in today's Russia over the development of relations with Japan.

Keywords: Japan, foreign policy, President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pressure groups, parliamentary exchanges, stereotypes, the political establishment.

Legal, institutional and socio-political factors of forming Russia's foreign policy towards Japan

In the constitutional and legal terms the Russian Federation is a presidential republic. The Constitution of the Russian Federation vests the president with the exclusive powers in the sphere of the state foreign policy decision making. Although the Fundamental Law also specifies other subjects involved in determining and implementing the Russian foreign policy course (the Russian people, subjects of the Russian Federation, etc.) the head of state exercises the broadest power prerogatives in this sphere. According to Item 3 of Article 80 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, its president not only determines "the guidelines of the internal and foreign policies", but also manages them himself. The special role of the presidential power in the mechanism of taking foreign policy decisions also stems from the fact that under Article 113 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the president determines the main directions of the government's activities and organization of its work. This circumstance allows him to give direct instructions to individual departments, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and simply hand down directives and decisions for execution.

In the routine of daily work, the President of the Russian Federation draws information from a variety of sources. The key ministers of foreign affairs, defense, internal affairs, heads of the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Federal Security Service, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, etc., have the right to directly report to the president, including on international issues. In certain circumstances, the Presidential Administration's Foreign Policy Directorate can also have a decisive influence on the choice of the president. An important advisory and auxiliary body of the president is the Security Council, which includes all key ministers of the Russian government.

There are also a number of informal channels of influence on the guarantor of the Constitution, manifested through separate groupings, which can be conditionally called "pressure groups". The process of power concentration in the hands of these groups was promoted by the two key factors: strong concentration of the president's power, on the one hand, and legally unsettled issues of the division of powers between separate foreign political activity subjects, on the other.

In the context of the multiplicity of centers of influence on the president, striking is the absence of a single coordinating center that would assist the head of state in preparing foreign policy decisions. After all, the Russian president relies on his own ideas and feelings in order to make this or that choice, connected with actions of the state in the world arena.

Pragmatic considerations based on a sober assessment of Russia's real capabilities underlie the Russian president's approach to the development of mutual relations with Japan. According to them, Russia's Far Eastern neighbor is a major external source of growth for it, and, consequently, political rapprochement with Tokyo should serve the purposes of economic growth of remote Russian regions, the development of natural resources, settlement of social problems (ensuring employment, raising the living standards of the population, etc.).

The Russian government's subjective role in general and the role of individual ministries and departments are of major interest as concerns institutional factors of shaping the Japanese direction of the Russian foreign policy course. The Constitution of the Russian Federation has only one related line saying that the government "carries out measures for implementing the foreign policy." At the same time, by tradition, the Russian government head mainly deals only with domestic and economic policy issues and rather rarely makes independent decisions in the foreign policy sphere. The only mention of the special mission of the Cabinet head can be found only in the Law "On International Treaties of the Russian Federation", according to which, "the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation as the Government head and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, by virtue of their functions and in accordance with international law, shall negotiate and sign international treaties of the Russian Federation without the need for credentials" [7].

Various aspects of relations with Japan fall more or less in the sphere of competence of the following agencies: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (general and political issues of bilateral relations); Ministry of Economic Development (trade and economic relations, investment cooperation, tariff policy issues); the State Committee on Fisheries and the Federal Border Service (issues of protecting Russian borders and marine resources from encroachments by foreign poachers, the problem of quotas for fishing in Russian territorial waters), and a number of other ministries and departments. The Japanese direction of work turns out to be quite significant for such agencies as the Russian Space Agency, the Ministry of Atomic Energy, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry for the Far East Development.

The head ministry, which oversees the political issues of our relations with Japan, is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It should be noted that at various historical stages, there were certain differences in the diplomatic approaches of the Foreign Ministry and President. The Russian Foreign Ministry tends to be more reserved, down-to-earth and conservative, following the president half a step behind. The question of how great is the Foreign Ministry's freedom of maneuver depends on a number of factors: the political weight and authority of the foreign minister, his personal relations with the president, the internal organizational, structural and expert-analytical capabilities of the Foreign Ministry itself, the interests of other departments and private businesses, and finally, the political significance of these problems from the viewpoint of the domestic situation in Russia.

The question of the Russian Foreign Ministry's internal capabilities is complex from the point of view of comprehensive study and preparation of political decisions. Within the framework of the current doctrine of public administration, the main function of the Russian Foreign Ministry is to directly implement the foreign policy approved by the President of the Russian Federation. In addition, the Foreign Ministry coordinates foreign policy activities of the federal executive power bodies and controls them in accordance with Presidential Decree No. 1478 dated November 8, 2011 "On the Coordinating Role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in Pursuing a Unified Foreign Policy Line of the Russian Federation". At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not vested with special competence in the foreign policy sphere and, thus, occupies the position of the "first among equals" in relation to other Russian departments. In reality, its role is often reduced to the solution of secondary or technical issues.

The organizational and political resources of the Russian Foreign Ministry are very limited. As regards the Japanese track, the absence of expert-analytical structures within it that would ensure "brainstorming" of the problems of relations with this country from the national positions, the shortcomings in the strategic vision of the majority of problems arising in relations with Tokyo strike the eye. The Foreign Ministry's mid-level specialized agencies have a shortage of focused country specialists who are well versed in all the intricacies and "pitfalls" of relations with Japan. The work of the Foreign Ministry's central office staff is mainly focused on the settlement of routine management issues: the formulation of various types of regulatory documents, preparation of working meetings of the leadership, writing of certificates, notes, reports, etc. The prevalence of protocol-office functions does not allow the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to claim the role of a political locomotive and take the initiative in making breakthrough decisions.

In addition to the Foreign Ministry, the "power-wielding agencies": the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Security Service, and the Foreign Intelligence Service can also exert their influence on Russia's foreign policy course toward Japan. Since 1994, the top security chiefs (the "siloviki" ministers) are directly subordinate to the president, regularly (usually at least once a week) have an audience with the latter, have the right to make an immediate report to him in acute and contingency situations.

The question of whether the opinion of certain groups of influence is taken into account when making foreign policy decisions at the highest level is also ambiguous. The Russian president is interested in the existence of certain differences among various foreign policy actors, since this provides him with an additional power resource, giving him the right to "stand above" the departmental and group interests. The fact that the notion of mutually beneficial pragmatism, rather than abstract ideological doctrines, is at the forefront of the Foreign Policy Concept approved by the President of the Russian Federation is also playing its role. Foreign policy is understood as an important resource for the fulfillment of internal tasks, first of all, in creating favorable conditions for the progressive economic development of Russia.

As for the role of the Security Council in formulating Russia's approach to Russian-Japanese relations, there is a certain contradiction between the officially proclaimed purpose of this body, which involves preparing decisions of the President of the Russian Federation in the field of ensuring international security and controlling their implementation, and the real possibilities for fulfilling the tasks assigned to it. The Security Council never became a full-fledged working body for foreign policy planning. From a legal point of view, its decisions are not binding and are recommendatory in nature. The limited resources of planning, analysis, coordination and control pose a major problem. For example, the Council does not have special country-specific agencies for a comprehensive study of the bilateral relations' problems, and the Japanese direction is included in the scope of competence of a multidisciplinary unit.

It should be concluded in general that Russia has never worked out an effective interdepartmental format for the development, adoption and implementation of state decisions on key political, economic and military-strategic issues affecting Russian-Japanese relations. The Foreign Ministry is responsible for the foreign policy coordination; the foreign policy doctrine is the responsibility of the Interdepartmental Foreign Policy Commission of the Security Council; current international activity issues are decided by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Intelligence Service and a number of other departments; the current issues related to the planning and implementation of the activities of the President of the Russian Federation are decided by the Presidential Administration, in particular through the Foreign Policy Directorate and the Presidential Protocol Office. In view of this, the institutional framework for the formation of Russian-Japanese relations is characterized by relative looseness of its organizational base, misalignment of actions of the executive power bodies responsible for working out and taking decisions.

The Federal Assembly plays a certain role in the formulation of the Russian foreign policy course towards Japan. Russian legislators, within the framework of their constitutional powers, debate and analyze separate state policy spheres, work to provide the legal groundwork for the country's foreign policy course and fulfill its international obligations. According to the Russian Constitution (Article 106), the State Duma of the Russian Federation has ultimate powers to ratify international treaties, resolve issues of war and peace. The parliament can hold hearings on acute international problems, establish contacts with legislative assemblies of foreign countries, conduct independent "parliamentary diplomacy", sending parliamentary delegations abroad and hosting foreign legislators. High-level representatives of ministries and departments, including ministers and directors of departments, representatives of the media, academic community, businessmen, etc., can be summoned to meetings of parliamentary committees and commissions. If the issue under discussion gains resonance among the public, the process of parliamentary hearings is covered in detail by the mass media.

There are several deputy organizations in the structure of both houses of the Russian parliament for liaising with parliamentary assemblies of certain foreign states, which set as their goal the development of inter-parliamentary relations. Such a deputy group, headed by MP Mikhail Slipenchuk, also works in the sphere of relations with the Japanese parliament. In some cases, parliamentary ties outgrow the nature of routine exchanges and take the form of notable foreign policy actions that have a significant impact on the state of relations with Japan.

The business community takes an active part in Russia's foreign policy activities. As for Japan, the Russian businesses here are mainly interested in attracting direct investments in various sectors of the economy. However, the investment ties between the two countries are rather limited, and as a result, the institutionalization of a specific Japanese component in the economic interests of Russian business circles is also limited.

Among those business organizations that are engaged in the development of economic ties with Japan, the Russian-Japanese Business Council, headed by President of the all-Russian non-governmental organization Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) Alexey Repik should be specially mentioned. The objective of the Council established by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Russia is to assist Russian enterprises and organizations in finding business partners in Japan, to work out specific projects in the field of trade and investment, and to organize exhibitions, congresses and other business events [5].

Another specialized body for the development of business contacts between the two countries is the Russian-Japanese Committee on Economic Cooperation, which was founded by the Russian Council of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. It was established in April 1992 as a result of the transformation of the Soviet-Japanese Committee for Economic Cooperation, established in 1965 simultaneously with the Japanese-USSR Economic Cooperation Committee on the basis of exchange letters between the two countries' Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The Committee Chairman from the Russian side is Alexander Shokhin, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

The public opinion factor plays a certain role in the formation of the Russian foreign policy towards Japan. Right after the Cold War ended and the taboo on mass discussion of international issues was removed, this factor indisputably acquired a much greater importance than it had during the Soviet era. In general, there is a certain contradiction in the Russian public opinion between the benevolent attitude to cultural and technological achievements of Japan and the negative political assessment of Japan, or rather, of the position it occupies in the world coordinates, as well as the significance of bilateral relations for Russia's national interests. In the eyes of the majority Japan appears to be a country, which, at best, has no foreign policy of its own, and at worst - is a US satellite and Russian geopolitical foe. The Russian public's attitude to Japan is becoming more apprehensive, and everything that is related to that country is more and more often perceived through the prism of the notorious "northern territories" problem.

In recent years, due to the fact that Japan in 2014 joined the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the West, Russians' attitude towards Japan, which has traditionally been reserved and neutral has significantly worsened. Thus, if in May 2008 the majority (71 %) of respondents of a public opinion poll conducted by the Levada Center assessed the relations with Japan as "friendly and normal," while 17 % of those polled said they were "cool and hostile," then in September 2014 this balance changed respectively to 38 % and 55 % [2]. And in October 2015, as many as 75 % of those polled expressed confidence that Japan, as well as the United States, Germany and Britain, are Russia's adversaries, "seeking to solve their own problems at its expense and do damage to its interests at any opportunity" [1].

The negative public attitude to the position of official Tokyo is taken into account in the political programs of individual politicians. Many Russian MPs, primarily representing the regions of Siberia and the Far East, cannot ignore the voters' opinion on the territorial issue when publicizing their political platform and during the parliamentary vote on separate resolutions. In addition, the results of public opinion polls exert certain pressure on the central government, which cannot too obviously and openly counter in its foreign policy actions the majority of citizens.

However, the possibility to manipulate the public opinion through the mass media allows the authorities to regulate the citizens' moods for political purposes, for example, during the election period, securing the voters' support for the correct deputies. It is also possible to speak of the authorities' explicit disregard for the public opinion. The past few years have also seen a growing trend for direct hushing up by Russia's media outlets of the content of important negotiations and consultations at the highest level. So, the negotiations on the issue of a peace treaty with Japan that were resumed in 2013 are conducted behind closed doors largely due to the fact that they affect the delicate and sensitive matters.

In the context of the public opinion factor it should be noted that a certain influence on the foreign policy process is also exerted by various research organizations, "think tanks" and other analytical structures that are an alternative to the state foreign policy planning bodies: academic institutions (the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences (IFES RAS), the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IOS RAS), the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO RAS), universities, etc. However, in general, the scope of participation of academic and other non-governmental organizations in the process of formulating the foreign policy course is extremely limited and continues to decline. The state represented by the relevant departments is unwilling to get advice and assistance from the "think tanks" and also does not facilitate their development and functional activity. There is also a major problem regarding the access of non-governmental organizations and research centers to the inside information on foreign policy and security, which is strictly limited in accordance with the Law on State Secrets. Russian experts only occasionally speak from the media on issues of bilateral political relations with Japan, and the results of major research studies for the settlement of pressing political and economic problems of these relations, are, in fact, "put on the shelf."

It is possible to name several reasons for the absence of demand for the national research potential. Firstly, the "staff shortage": young people are unwilling to work in the academic field primarily because of low wages and, as a consequence, the low social prestige of researchers. It would be difficult to expect high-quality research amid low competition, the lack of creative initiative and innovative approach in the academic environment. Secondly, the involvement of expert organizations, alternative to the government institutions, in the process of foreign policy decision-making does not rely on a system-based approach and is rather sporadic. In fact, researchers now are almost never included in councils and commissions the conclusions of which would be heeded by the top political leaders, let alone the government delegation involved in the practical issues of bilateral relations. Actually, there is no versatile "think tank" products' market in Russia, and there is no competition between different approaches to international problems in the country. The foreign political activity subjects represented by the Foreign Ministry and other ministries and departments prefer to either rely on their own resources or wait for instructions "from above", especially from the presidential administration.

The answer to the question what is underlying the motivation of the Russian policy towards Japan depends on a great variety of factors. Russia's foreign policy priorities in this sphere, which are based on the principles of pragmatism and realistic assessment of available resources, are quite transparent: to ensure international stability in the Asia-Pacific region, protect the country's Far Eastern borders, attract Japanese capital in the Russian economy, involve, with Japan's assistance, the Russian regions of Siberia and the Far East in the economic integration processes in the Asia-Pacific region.

As of today, the president is a factually uncontested and decisive factor in the mechanisms of the formation and implementation of Russia's foreign policy. He can afford to make any decisions. At the same time, separate ministries and departments, including security agencies, have no real constitutional, legal and institutional capacity to introduce qualitative changes in the Russian foreign policy strategy. The foreign policy process is characterized by vagueness, uncertainty of its formation mechanism, as well as closed nature, non-transparency and immunity to civil control. On the one hand, the possibilities for the academic community, political parties and non-governmental organizations to participate in the preparation of foreign policy decisions are becoming more and more limited, while the role of the executive power branch continues to grow. On the other hand, much depends not on the constitutional principles and the formal division of powers between separate foreign political activity subjects, but on the balance of forces between numerous groups in the president's entourage.

Viewpoints on Japan in Russia's political establishment and expert community

The existing Russian stereotypes about Japan can be divided into three types: "a loser state", "stop being a satellite of America!" and "Germany in the East", and their proponents can be nominally denoted as "conservatives", "realists" and "mercantilists." Of course, there is an element of exaggeration in this classification, but it would be hard to understand the nature of the Russian doubts and hesitations on the Japanese issue without it.

The first of these stereotypes concerns the World War II results and unequivocally classifies Japan as a "loser state", which should behave in the world arena according to its status. It is the most popular among the conservative part of the Russian political class, including lawmakers of all levels, the military, diplomats, journalists, experts and part of university professors. This view is based on a broad public sentiment in which the nationalist component considerably strengthened in the wake of the Crimean events.

The "conservatives" are based on the assumption that Russia has the status of a country-guarantor of the Yalta-Potsdam system and the postulate that the Second World War results cannot be revised. In their view, Japan as the losing country should constantly remember its own status, taking it with repentance and humility. There is a certain degree of alarmism in the "conservatives'" attitude to the "revanchist," in their view, policy of the Shinzo Abe Cabinet in the sphere of national security aimed at the revision of the Constitution, elimination of pacifist restrictions and providing for active military capability development. They express extremely negative emotions towards any form of the Japanese authorities' public territorial claims to Russia. The most radical proponents of this view proceed from a real possibility of Japan's military attack seeking a military solution to the problem of the islands. For example, Mikhail Krupyanko and Liana Areshidze insist that "Russia's military planning must proceed from the worst possible scenario," especially given the fact that "the islands' proximity to Japanese shores makes the task of their defense extremely difficult" [3].

The priority of the postulate of inviolability of the results of World War II and Japan's status of a "losing side," on which the "conservatives" insist in reality means a very strict adherence to the line of the "absence of the territorial issue" in the dialogue of Moscow with Tokyo. According to the logic of the "conservatives," any compromise, even in the spirit of the 1956 Declaration, would implicitly mean a revision of the war results and would plant a time bomb under the entire structure of the post-war borders. It is this conservative viewpoint that in recent years has become the mainstream in the Russian political establishment that generates Moscow's maximum rigidity and intransigence in its dialogue with Tokyo.

The second stereotype - "Stop being a satellite of America!"- is based on the assumption that Japan is pursuing an overly pro-American policy that does not meet its national interests and that Japan is already strong enough to get rid of Uncle Sam's continuous control over its actions, and that in its approach to Russia, Japan must take a much more independent stance. This stereotype is more common among the most realistically-minded political scientists and diplomats, and less common - among the security officials.

The "realists" attach special importance to the differences in the national interests of Japan and the United States [4], appeal to the "Chinese threat" to Japan and to the need to build good relations with Russia to neutralize this threat, interpret US-Chinese summit-level contacts in conspiratorial terms, as an attempt to "divide the world" behind Japan's back. The "realists" reject the characteristic of the "conservatives" dogmatic understanding of the World War II results and other issues of the past, proceeding from the present realities of the post-bipolar world, and display an understanding of Japan's modern security policy, seeing it as a natural desire of Tokyo to defend its national interests in the face of new threats. They believe that Russia and Japan can find a compromise on the territorial issue, returning to the conditions of the 1956 Declaration, and that the specific conditions of this compromise can be worked out based on the realities of the present moment.

It should be noted that in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, along with the increasing anti-American component in Russia's foreign policy, members of the Russian political elite have begun to pin hopes on Japan as a country that supports the anti-Russian sanctions against its will, only because of solidarity with the West. Some in Russia believe that Japan can contribute to overcoming the international isolation of Moscow. Objectively, these hopes are an expression of the views of the "realists."

The third stereotype - "Japan is like Germany in the East" - is based on the need for maximum de-politicization of relations with Japan, for distancing in the relationship with it from any complex and contentious issues and relying on what unites us - on common economic interests, based on Russia's ability to provide Japan with energy, food and transit opportunities to Europe in exchange for Japanese investment and technology. Since the thesis "Germany in the East" gives priority to economic relations, which are expected to promote the Russian-Japanese relations in the long term, its adherents can be roughly classified as belonging to the "mercantilist" wing of the political establishment, which exists in all the major economic powers with the mentally and politically realized business interests.

This is the most radical "pro-Japanese" view, which is based on the inadmissibility of Russia's one-sided reliance on China, which carries the risks of turning Russia into a "northern ulus" of China. As for the problems of the past, the "mercantilists" believe that Russia and Japan should build their relations "from scratch", wiping the slate clean to the extent practicable. In their view, once the territorial dispute with Japan is settled, or at least the sides find the most conflict-free formula of its freezing for a long time, an influx of Japanese investment and technology, which is so much needed in Russia in the current difficult economic situation, would immediately begin to Siberia and the Far East. According to proponents of this point of view Dmitri Trenin and Yuval Weber, gaining in the East a partner similar to Germany will bring obvious benefits to Russia in all the relevant spheres: trade, investment, science and technology, education, health, transport, and people to people contacts. The presence of a "second Germany" in the Pacific, in their view, will considerably strengthen Russia's position in the world arena [6].

This stereotype has gained certain recognition among the Russian expert community, the bureaucracy of the government's economic block, the business community, as well as the liberal wing of the political forces. It should be stated that these views have virtually struck no cord with the Russian society. They are also not reflected in Russia's practical politics. However, a certain strengthening of the positions of the "mercantilists" can be expected as the Russian economic crisis aggravates and serious problems in the relations with China emerge.

So, which of the reviewed stereotypes has the dominant influence on the Russian leadership and on the Russian president in particular? No unequivocal answer can be given here. Apparently, neither the Russian leaders nor Russian organizations dealing with Japan have a well-rounded image of Japan and a coherent strategy for the development of relations with that country. Different, even mutually exclusive points of view can paradoxically coexist in one and the same subject of foreign policy activities, including the Russian president.

The resultant vector is that Russia has so far refrained from taking steps that would cause a significant deterioration of political relations with Tokyo; it continues, despite the internal political pressure from the right-wing forces, the dialogue on a peace treaty, has taken a very cautious stance on matters related to Tokyo's modern military policy in the sphere of security. This is so because Moscow realizes the fact that by going too far in criticizing the "resurgent militarism", it risks to further aggravate the already bad relations with Tokyo. Supporting the principle of neutrality on complex issues of history that is on the agenda in Japan's relations with its neighboring countries, Russia thus tries to keep the door open for further normalizing political relations with Tokyo, in a bid to make sure that these relations are not marred further by anything except the existing border issue.


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6. Trenin D, Veber Yu. Tikhookeanskoye budushcheye Rossii: uregulirovaniye spora vokrug Yuzhnykh Kuril. / Russia's Pacific future: settlement of the dispute around the South Kurils. URL:

7. Federalny Zakon ot 15.07.1995 N 101-ФЗ (Versiya ot 12.03.2014). Statya 12, p.2. / Federal Law No 101-FZ of 15.07.1995.pdf (Version of 12.03.2014). Article 12, p.2 URL:

Received 20.03.2016


Streltsov Dmitry V., Doctor of Sciences (History), Professor, Head of the Department of Oriental Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation, Leading Researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. E-mail: Этот e-mail защищен от спам-ботов. Для его просмотра в вашем браузере должна быть включена поддержка Java-script

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