September 22, 2016

Russia's and Japan's Closer Relations - Vilyuchinsk SSBN Base 1

The 4 Japanese "Northern Territory"/Russian "southern Kuril" islands in dispute are Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and Habomai. These islands sit between the 1885 "border" line and the 1945 "border" line. (The map, courtesy flickr, can be hugely enlarged here
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Prime Minister of Japan Abe and Russia’s President Putin have begun a range of discussions signalling increasing closeness. Japan’s Foreign Minister may visit Russia in October 2016. According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry it is anticipated Putin will visit Japan in December 2016.

Post Fukushima Japan would prefer a wider variety of non-nuclear energy sources. Russia’s oil and gas can probably be undersea piped (maybe with Japan’s help) from Russia’s northeast Siberian island of Sakhalin to Japan (see map above). 

The pipeline would be from Sakhalin under the narrow (42km) La Perouse Strait to Japan's northern "home" island of Hokkaido. Such a pipeline would be less vulnerable to Chinese military interception unlike Japan's oil/gas supplies that are shipped through the Malacca Straits north via the South China Sea and East China Sea. The Chinese would be disinclined to cut such a pipeline (using ships or submarines) due to Russia’s military forces - forces that in total (conventional backed by nuclear) are superior to China’s.

So in this pipeline respect closer Russia-Japan relations would be a balance against rising Chinese military power.

Japan, which never signed a post-WWII peace treaty with Russia, has wanted Russia to return 4 small islands of Japan’s Northern Territory that Russia invaded in the last days of WWII. Russia for nationalist and strategic reasons considers these 4 islands (what Russia calls the “southern Kurils”) see map above, as its own territory

The current economic value of the islands are mainly fishing. It is likely the islands were informally  shared by Japanese, ethnic Russian and indigenous Ainu fishermen for centuries.

Of greater economic value are possible oil and gas reserves under the Kurils.

It is significant that the beginnings of increasing Japan-Russia closeness are happening when the US’s usual anti-Russian pressure is more difficult to be applied to Japan. This has 2 main reasons:

-  it is possible that Trump (who has an affinity for Putin) may win the November 8, 2016, Election,
   and, 

-  the US is currently in the pre/post Presidential election “Lameduck” Season where, by convention,
   no major US diplomatic initiatives can be launched. Lameduck Ignoring Season ends on US
   Presidential Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.

So the US Government is not automatically pressuring Japan not to be so friendly with Russia.

VILYUCHINSK SSBN-SSN-SSGN BASE

The Kurils have much greater nationalistic and strategic value for Russia. Russia is concerned that if all 4 Kurils islands were returned to Japan this may be beginning of Russia's loss of more far east  Siberian possessions. The southern Kurils (in dispute) and northern Kurils form a buffer zone protecting Russia's SSBN Base at the port of Vilyuchinsk. This buffer prevents any closer proximity of Japanese or US missile, air or naval forces that might quicly strike surfaced submarines in Vilyuchinsk

Vilyuchinsk's isolation is also security strength aginst "binocular" spying and sabotage. It is almost as far into Siberia as one can go. Vilyuchinsk is a "closed town" meaning only those Russians who are authorised can visit - no foreigners (who can be shot!). Vilyuchinsk is 20kms from the also extremely isolated city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (see map below).

Russia may also be contemplating stationing naval forces further south on the Kuril Islands themselves.

On 26 September I'll do "Russia's Broader Nuclear Submarine Basing Strategy".

While Vilyuchinsk SSBN Base is closed to tourists the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, 20km away, hosts a small international airport. Some tourists are interested in Ainu culture. (Map courtesy Yakutia Airlines).
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Pete

10 comments:

Josh said...

@Pete:

Is there significant infrastructure on the Sakhalin Island to build a pipeline from? My understanding was that Petropavlovsk was hard to logistically support and that infrastructure across Siberia was thin to nil. Are there oil fields or pipelines actually in Kamchatka?

Cheers,
Josh

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

The Japanese government, in the negotiations of the Northern Territories issue with Russia, has decided plans to be the minimum conditions of delivery of the two Islands, i.e., Habomai Islands and Shikotan Island. Delivery of the other two Island, i.e., Kunashir and Iturup Islands will be ongoing consultation. (*snips*) [1]

[1]http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20160922-00050090-yom-pol

Regards
S

Ztev Konrad said...

The graphic of the map with the borders claimed, has left out the 1875 border where Russia obtained all of Sakhalin Is and Japan obtained all Kuril Is up till Kamchatka. The 1905 Treaty to end the Russo japanese war meant Japan obtained Manchuria and half of Sakhalin ( keeping all the Kuriles)
http://www.geocities.jp/warera_tikyujin/islands/kuril_islands.html

At the end of WW2 The Treaty of San Franciso which Japan signed with US Japan renounced all claims to the Kuriles ( and Skahalin) which were of course occupied by Soviet Union. A bit strange that Japan wants to walk back its claims to Kuriles ?

Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

http://www.maritime-executive.com/media/images/map_sakhalin_sm.jpg includes heaps of detail, including:

"The leaders [Abe and Putin] also discussed opportunities for Japan’s companies to participate in Sakhalin-2 and Yamal LNG projects with Japanese JGC Corporation exploring the possibility of building mini LNG plant on Sakhalin.

General Director of Mitsui & Co Moscow, Hiroshi Meguro, said earlier on Friday that Mitsui investment in the expansion of Sakhalin-2 will total more than $1 billion. He said the company is also interested in the Sakhalin-3 project.

Sakhalin Energy is the Sakhalin-2 operator, the only operating Russian LNG project so far. Sakhalin Energy’s shareholders are Gazprom with a 50 percent stake, along with Royal Dutch Shell (27.5 percent), Mitsui (12.5 percent), and Mitsubishi (10 percent)."

Even more detail is at http://www.russia-direct.org/opinion/russian-gas-diplomacy-and-sakhalin-japan-pipeline

PETE COMMENT

What more broadly may be envisaged is that oil/gas from the Russian mainland may be piped to Sakhalin Island, pipe then built on Sakhalin south to La Perouse Strait, then across strait to Japan. Japan may simultaneously build a connecting pipe across Hokkaido.

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Thanks S

It seems a big issue whether Russia and Japan hammer out an Islands in Dispute Agreement before OR after the pipeline project starts or is completed.

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev

Yeah, like Korea, Sakhalin has been occupied and fought over by China, Japan and Russia for many centuries. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakhalin#History

Joint Russian-Japanese economic (oil, gas and pipeline) exploitation of Sakhalin would present another positive move by Russia. Russia formally surrendering Sakhalin to Japan is unnecessary and just won't happen.

It gets messier over the Senkakus that were quarantined by the US in 1945 when they should have gone, by end of WWII treaties, to China or at least Taiwan by the 1950s. Compared to post WWII Peace in Western Europe Nourtheast Asia is pretty messy. Abe and Putin seem to be making positive moves to cleanup some of the mess.

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga denied the above-mentioned report [1]. He said it was against the fact, the Japanese government will request full delivery of four islands [2].

Tough negotiation has already started, in this July, the Sankei News pointed out Russian-made shoddy infrastructures of Kunashir Island [3], suggesting that Russia is going to use these infrastructures as diplomatic card [3].

History of Russo-Japanese relation has been bitter as shown in Russo-Japanese War, Siberian Intervention, Battles of Khalkhin Gol, Soviet-Japanese War of 1945, bad treatment of Japanese prisoners of war in the Soviet Union, and status in Cold War. Russia and Japan can not criticize each other, both countries made mistakes. The two countries should forget past.

[1]http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20160922-00050090-yom-pol
[2]http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20160923-00000517-san-pol
[3]http://www.iza.ne.jp/kiji/politics/news/160729/plt16072913000011-n1.html

Regards
S

Peter Coates said...

Oh well. Japan can remain at war or in confrontation with Russia, China, North Korea and not close to South Korea. Mature resolution seems elusive.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Very recently, the ex-chief analysist of Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Yu Sato suggested possibility of drastic resolution of the Northern Territory Issue. Japanese and Russian governments may solve the Northern Territory Issue by diplomatic wisdom, where Japanese government requests return of stolen lands and Russian insists that it is gift, but, they do not criticize claims of the other party [1].

In poll on Russo-Japanese relation conducted by Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 78% of Russian citizens think that Japan and Russia are in the friendly relations and 60% knows that that the negotiation on the Northern Territory Issue is conducting. 53% thinks that Norther Territory belongs and will belong to Russia, and 42% replies the two countries should agree [2].

Japanese and Russian should understand the two counties sacrifice their claims which they cannot compromise.

[1] http://www.hochi.co.jp/topics/serial/CO021131/20160924-OHT1T50266.html (Sports Hochi, Sept/25/2016)
[2] http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20160925/k10010705851000.html

Regards
S

Peter Coates said...

Hi S [at 27/9/16 8:27 AM]

Certainly Russia should be more willing to compromise with Japan. This is better for both countries.

If just 2 islands are returned to Japan that is a start.

Regards

Pete