Soviet Union Table of Contents
The poor relations between the Soviet Union and Japan can probably be said to have originated in Japan's victory over imperial Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. During the Russian Civil War (1918-21), Japan (as a member of the Allied interventionist forces) occupied Vladivostok and did not leave until 1922. In the waning days of World War II, Stalin abrogated the 1941 neutrality pact between Japan and the Soviet Union, declaring war on Japan days before Japan surrendered in August 1945 in order to occupy vast areas of East Asia formerly held by the Japanese. Fifty-six islands of the Kuril chain, as well as the southern half of Sakhalin, were subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union. The extreme southernmost islands of the Kuril chain constitute what the Japanese still term the Northern Territories-- the small islands of Shikotan-tu, Kunashir, and Etorofu and the Habomai Islands. Stalin's absorption of the Northern Territories prevented the conclusion of a Soviet-Japanese World War II peace treaty and the establishment of closer relations between the two states. The Soviet Union continued to refuse to return the Northern Territories because such a return would encourage the Chinese to push their own territorial claims. Also, the Soviet Union has used the islands as part of a antisubmarine warfare network guarding the mouth of the Sea of Okhotsk.
Under Gorbachev, Soviet-Japanese relations thawed somewhat. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze visited Tokyo in January 1986 and December 1988, and a new Soviet ambassador, fluent in Japanese, was posted to Tokyo in mid-1986. As of 1989, however, political and economic relations had not shown signs of great improvement. Soviet trade with Japan remained far below its potential, given the Japanese need for energy and raw materials available from the Soviet Union and Gorbachev's desires to import technology to modernize the Soviet economy.
Data as of May 1989