The Russian aerial incursion came on Northern Territory Day in Japan, which commemorates the 1855 treaty between the two countries that defines the South Kuril Islands as Japanese possessions. At the end of WWII, however, Russia annexed the islands, and today Moscow says Russian sovereignty over the islands is indisputable.
It’s almost as if Russia wanted to poke Tokyo in the eye. Japan scrambled four fighter jets of its own in response and lodged a “severe protest” with the Russian embassy. Russia replied that it “regrets” that Japan keeps making baseless claims to the islands, and also denied that its jets violated Japan’s airspace in the first place.
Japan’s territory is beset on all sides: in the south by China, which claims the Senkaku Islands, and in the north by Russia. Taiwan, which also claims the Senkakus, complicates this scene. Japanese coast guard ships were forced to use water cannons and loudspeakers late last month to repel Taiwanese activists who were trying to land on the disputed islands.
These incidents are likely to fuel the desire of Japanese nationalists who support rearmament and a tough foreign policy against aggression by Japan’s neighbors. In the face of these continual incursions, even the most dovish Japanese politicians will be hard-pressed to keep calm.