Writing for Bloomberg, David Tweed and Ott Ummelas describe how Russian moves in Ukraine are undermining its relationship with non-Chinese East Asia, particularly Japan but also South Korea. (China, conversely, may do nicely.)
As a convoy of white trucks heading from Moscow to Ukraine raises alarm about a potential Russian invasion, Vladimir Putin is opening up a new front on his global chess board.
Putin sparked outrage in Japan with a military drill along Russia’s eastern frontier this week, reigniting a territorial dispute with his Asian neighbor that has festered since the Soviet Union occupied the Kuril Islands, which Japan calls its Northern Territories, at the end of World War II.
The move risks upending years of rapprochement and rising trade with Japan, according to analysts from Tokyo to Washington. It also suggests that Putin is willing to take his European playbook to Asia and subordinate Russia’s economic interests to the calling of power and prestige.
“The military exercises are about projecting confidence and strength,” said Michael Auslin, director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “Putin wants Russia to be seen as a great player in the Pacific, otherwise it’s going to be eclipsed by China.”
[. . .]
Alienating Japan [. . .] raises the risk of Putin becoming even more reliant on China as a destination for Russian goods at a time when he’s running out of global allies. China is already Russia’s biggest trading partner, and three months ago the two countries signed a $400 billion gas-supply deal.
“In the case of China, it may further accelerate the process of Russian-Chinese relations becoming a China-dominated partnership,” said Arkady Moshes, head of the European Union’s Eastern Neighborhood and Russia research program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki.