Russia has become the latest power to make a move in the Game of Thrones, sending a fleet to a disputed group of islands in the Pacific to strengthen their territorial claims in the Far East. Ownership of the southern Kuril Islands, which the Japanese call the Northern Territories and lie ten miles off Japan’s second largest island, Hokkaido, has been in dispute between Russia and Japan since World War II. The conflict has remained cold for years but though war is nowhere in view, things are heating up. Reuters reports:
The Russian Defence Ministry said the large landing ship Admiral Nevelskoi and the tugboat Kalar will visit three of the four islands to take part in ceremonies honouring Soviet sailors who died there at the end of World War Two.
Russia seized the Kuril Islands after World War II, as what it considered a just reward for its enormous sacrifices in the conflict. That claim, however, is complicated by the fact that Japan and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact in 1939, which both parties honored until the Soviets finally declared war on Japan in August 1945 (as agreed by the Allies at Yalta). If Japan had broken the treaty and stabbed the Soviet Union in the back in December 1941 when German forces were literally in sight of Moscow, Stalin probably would have lost the war. Four years later, when Japan was in equally dire straits, Stalin attacked.Tokyo remembers.In the past two years Russian officials have traveled to the islands, to Japan’s dismay. Russian politicians have also made calls to change the names of the islands from their Japanese-derived appellations to new Russian ones. Russia has also funded development projects on the islands, bringing thousands of migrant workers from nearby North and South Korea and the former Soviet Union, according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun:
A worker from Kazakhstan said he came to the Northern Territories about six years ago and has worked on Shikotan and Kunashiri.“We built a school and kindergarten on Shikotan,” the worker said. “I don’t think Russia plans on returning the islands to Japan.”
The U.S., evidently, isn’t the only country making a “pivot to Asia.”