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Posted on on August 9th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010

Russia’s new war anniversary.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on July 25 signed into law a bill designating Sept. 2 as “the anniversary of the end of World War II.” The bill had been approved by the State Duma (lower house) on July 8 and by the Federation Council (upper house) on July 14.

The law has been interpreted as effectively commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory over Japan on Sept. 2, 1945. Tokyo signed a surrender document on that day aboard the U.S. battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. As this year is the 65th anniversary of the war’s end, Russia may carry out large-scale celebrations Sept. 2 centering on the Russian Far East.

On July 3-4, the Russian military carried out a military exercise involving some 1,500 soldiers and 200 military and special-purpose vehicles on Etorofu Island, the northernmost and biggest of four islands, northeast of Hokkaido, that are claimed by both Japan and Russia.

In 1998, then President Boris Yeltsin vetoed a similar bill in consideration of Japan-Russia relations. Mr. Medvedev has taken the opposite tack. Russia apparently aims to justify its effective control of what Japan calls the Northern Territories and check Japan’s attempt to get the four islands back. Japan did not strongly protest the enactment of the law because the phrase “victory over Japan” is not used.

Nevertheless, the Kan administration must firmly maintain Japan’s official stand on its sovereignty over the Northern Territories and persevere in trying to break the deadlock over the territorial issue. Japan maintains that the Soviet Union declared war against Japan on Aug. 9, 1945, in violation of the Japan-Soviet neutrality pact, and that its military illegally seized the islands between Aug. 29 and Sept. 9 of that year.

Despite the anniversary law, Russia considers economic cooperation with Japan, especially in developing the Russian Far East, indispensable for modernizing the Russian economy, which at present relies mainly on natural resource exports. Japan should make every effort to take advantage of this opportunity to improve its position in the territorial row.

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