Putin’s Pivot to Asia?

Recently, Vladimir Putin has made an interesting turn towards some of the United States’ partners in the Pacific.

A month ago, Putin visited Japan’s Prime Minister Abe to discuss trade and the fate of the Kuril Islands.  The Kuril Islands are a chain of 56 small islands that stretch between Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and the Northern coast of Japan.  Russia (the then Soviet Union) and Japan have disputed the ownership over the 4 southern most islands of the chain since the end of World War 2.  Only days after Japan signed its surrender to the Allies on-board the USS Missouri, the Soviets quickly moved in and seized the 4 islands Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan, and Habomai.  As seen below, the Kuril Islands act as a crucial natural barrier between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Northern Pacific Ocean.  All of these islands are patrolled by an unknown by assumed large quantity of Russian submarines due to its strategic importance to Russia.

Discussions between Abe and Putin concluded without any meaningful agreements between the 2 leaders.  The Kremlin sought to increase its exports of raw natural resources to Japan, whereas Japan desired the return of these 4 islands.  But Putin’s visit marks his first time back to Japan in over 11 years which may be a signal of future dialogue and improving relations in the future.

sea_of_okhotsk_map

Other growing ties in Asia include:

  • September – Russia and China conducted joined naval exercises in the South China Sea which can be construed as support for growing Chinese influence in the region.
  • January (2017) – Russia and the Philippines are considering future military cooperation and participating in joint military exercise despite a ratified Collective Defense Agreement between the US and the Philippines.
    • “We welcome our Russian friends. Anytime you want to dock here for anything, for play, for replenish supplies or maybe our ally to protect us,” said Duterte while shaking the hands of Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, head of the Flotilla of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet.
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