Amidst the widening rift between South Korea and Japan and the area-wide tensions associated with the upcoming second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Russia has recently decided to demonstrate its influence in a pair of seemingly unrelated actions.
The first salvo came last month when Sergey Lavrov, the top Russian diplomat who was hosted in a private Oval Office meeting by President Trump, publicly dismissed the Japanese position on the disputed Kuril islands. Russia seized the four islands at the end of World War II.
Japan has been in extended talks to establish a peace treaty with Russia, and Putin’s statements in November indicated that he was prepared to cede two of the four islands back to their historical Japanese ownership if Japan would recognize Russian ownership of the remaining two. Instead, two months later, the official Russian position has hardened.
The islands are now being hinted as a possible reward for Japan, should they officially break with the U.S. on Asian policy.
“We wondered whether Japan could be independent given such reliance on the U.S. and we were told that Japan would act proceeding from its national interests,” Lavrov said. “We would like to hope it will indeed be so.”AP
In a separate incident this past Sunday, Russia seized a South Korean fishing boat and its crew.
The 69-ton fishing vessel from Uljin, South Korea, was detained on Sunday at 6:30 a.m. Russian authorities say the boat was caught “fishing illegally,” according to the report.
The boat’s crew was taken to Nakhodka, a port city in the Russian Far East, where they await a final decision. On Monday morning, Russia informed the South Korean consulate in Vladivostok about the arrests.UPI
This is not a unique and dramatic event; in October, South Korea held some Russian vessels which had violated U.S. sanctions, as reported by Reuters. Whether or not the seizing of ships for political reasons has been experienced before, Russia’s decision to take these actions now suggests they are reminding other nations of their regional influence.