October 1, 2009｜Russia
Senior Research Fellow, The National Institute for Defense Studies
Compared to the neighboring countries which lie close to Japan such as China and the Korean Peninsula, general interest in and regard for Russia is not very high. In Japan’s outlook on Russia as well there are many stereotypical views that treat Russia as a maverick. After the conflict in Georgia, the “threat of Russia doctrine,” which is a hangover from the Cold War era, filled the media, and after the financial and economic crises so did the “doctrine of Russia in disorder,” which had been seen immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both arguments overplayed one aspect of Russia, and with not being able to get along with it in a direct fashion, Russia was written off. In place of the cheap expressions of “threat or disorder” isn’t there some kind of measuring stick with which to comprehend Russia in real scale?
The Cold War era barriers to exchange that shrouded the Sea of Japan disappeared, and at one point a “Japan-Sea-rim economic subregion concept” was put forward. The idea went first, and it included the raising of novel issues regarding how to involve Russia. As in the Cold War era, Japan–Russia relations were not taken up in intergovernmental relations between Tokyo and Moscow, but they attempted to redefine relations with neighboring countries from the viewpoint of the regions adjoining the Sea of Japan. This concept is still of use. Japan and Russia are neighbors who cannot move house, and whether they like it or not it is a case of having to coexist. In the Cold War era, this sense was tenuous. For that reason a view which is overly hostile to the neighbor has come into being.
Should we view Russia from Moscow or from the Russian Far East? Such a problem has emerged for the reason that Russia possesses the largest territory in the world. In the case of surveying Russia via Moscow, Russia is a far-off European country. If we look, however, at the Russian Far East, which is no more than a few hours from Niigata by plane, it appears as an Asian country which lies close to Japan. While Western countries take Russia as a European country, and observe only the activity in Moscow, isn’t Japan’s line of sight also too concentrated on Moscow? With the very overcoming of the viewpoint of looking at Russia via Moscow alone, the notion of how to get along with “Russia as a neighbor” will come into existence.
I try to participate as much as possible in the international conference organized by ERINA which is held every year in Niigata. Among the discussions on Russia made in Niigata is to rediscover the viewpoint of “Russia as a neighbor” which has disappeared from everyday view. If we are always aware of “Russia as a neighbor,” then it will become impossible to superficially discuss Russia through tinted lenses and preconceptions alone. The perspective of “proximity” requires the accepting as it is of “Russia as a neighbor.” ERINA, located in Niigata, discusses the economy of the Japan-Sea rim from a regional perspective, and a large number of local governments, including Niigata City, have been promoting Japan-Sea rim exchange at the grass-roots level. The accomplishments are immeasurable. Shouldn’t we be lending more of an ear to the viewpoint of “Russia as a neighbor” which has been cultivated from within this?