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Putin policies threaten Moscow’s control of two World War II trophy territories

Putin policies threaten Moscow’s control of two World War II trophy territories

Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine are echoing across the Russian Federation and now are calling into question Moscow’s control of two World War II trophy territories at opposite ends of the country, Kaliningrad which was part of Germany and the four islands which Japan still claims as its Northern Territories.

In Kaliningrad, activists have distributed leaflets displaying The Pahonia on the Lithuanian flag and calling for a demonstration on August 17 to call for an end to “feeding Moscow” and to proclaim a peoples republic in that non-contiguous Russian enclave. Both the symbolism and the timing are significant.

Kaliningrad People’s Republic flag

In the past, pro-independence supporters in Kaliningrad have typically displayed the flag of Prussia. Indeed, three of them were arrested in March at the time of the Maidan demonstrations in Kyiv for putting up that flag next to the FSB offices in that region, apparently intended to pressure German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a harder line against Moscow.

And the August 17 demonstration, both by its theme of ending support from the regions for Moscow and by its call for a peoples republic, is clearly tied to the plans of Siberian regionalists to stage a similar action in Novosibirsk, an action that has already prompted Moscow to try to block by censorship of the media and direct attacks.

Meanwhile, in Japan, former defense minister Yuriko Koike has written an article noting that Japan, as the only G7 country with a territorial dispute with the Russian Federation, must be especially alert to the implications of what Putin is doing for Tokyo’s interests not only in those territories but more generally.

Koike denounced Moscow for its latest display of what he called “imperial ambitions” and said that Putin has put in play forces that will have consequences far larger than he may have counted on.

On the one hand, the Japanese politician said, Putin’s actions in Ukraine cannot fail to attract attention to the four islands Moscow seized from Japan at the end of World War II. On those islands, “like everywhere in Russia,” the residents have “suffered from the incompetent and corrupt government, whether it was communist or today’s capitalist one.”

That experience plus the fact that on one of the those islands, Itrup, 60 percent of the residents have Ukrainian roots, means that in the event of a referendum there, Moscow might very well lose to those who want to rejoin Japan. “Would Putin recognize that result as easily as he did in Crimea?”

And on the other and more seriously, Koike argued that Putin’s actions are destabilizing all of Asia. “Every country [in that region],” he said, “should draw only one conclusion fromt eh silent approval by China of Putin’s seizure of Crimea: China also thinks that the strong are always right and can act in the same way in the disputed territories be they in the South China Sea or the Indian Himalayas.”

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