Russian Military Exercises Near Disputed Islands Coincide With Tokyo Olympics

Russian Military Exercises Near Disputed Islands Coincide With Tokyo Olympics

In ancient times, Olympic organizers asked warring states to bury the hatchet at least temporarily, so the Games could continue. Kremlin officials evidently do not have this Olympic spirit.

The war games, which began in late July 2021, will continue until late August. Observers believe Russia is taking a harder line over the disputed islands because Japan is doing the same thing. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conciliatory approach is a thing of the past. “Russia is seeking to punish Japan for its shift in stance,” remarked Temple University’s James Brown. 

To tighten the Kremlin’s grip on the islands, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin recently said the islands might become a tax-free economic zone. In response, Tokyo protested directly to the Russian Ambassador to Japan.

For Russia, military conflict and the Olympics have coincided before. In 2008, Georgian and Russian athletes competed against one other in Beijing while their countries fought a war with one another.

The Kuril Islands/The Northern Territories

Like many military dilemmas in this region, much of the dispute over this territory goes back to the early Cold War period. But the roots are much deeper.

Japan’s general claims over this island group go back to the early 1600s. Russia’s specific claims are almost as old, as a group of Cossacks started a colony on the island of Shumshu in 1711. In 1855, Russia and Japan essentially agreed to joint administration. Then, after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, which was a crushing defeat for imperial Russia, the Japanese obtained additional concessions, such as fishing rights in the entire region.

Japanese aggression continued in the run-up to World War II. In the early 1920s, Japanese forces, with support from the United States, briefly occupied part of the Kamchatka Peninsula, which is part of Siberia. These forces came from the Kuril Islands.

Subsequently, in 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto used the Kurils as a staging area for the Pearl Harbor strike force. Four years later, at the controversial Yalta Conference, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was desperate to enlist Soviet support and ensure Soviet membership in the postwar United Nations. So, Roosevelt promised that the Soviet Union could have the Kuril Islands after the war. 

Josef Stalin invaded the isuands shortly after he declared war on Japan. An estimated 5,000 Red Army and Japanese soldiers died during the fighting. By 1946, Soviet officials had expelled the entire Japanese population, roughly 17,000 people, from the island group.

The boundaries established at the Yalta Conference were a bit unclear, so the islands are still disputed. The Soviet Union, which no longer exists, never signed a peace treaty with Imperial Japan, which no longer exists either. So, the situation is uncertain, to say the least.

One might legitimately ask what all the fuss is about over some sparsely-inhabited islands in the North Pacific. We mentioned fishing rights earlier. The Northern Territories/Kuril Islands has some of the most productive fishing waters in the world. These islands are not just important economically. The strait between Iturup and Kunashir does not freeze during the winter. Without access to it, the Russian Pacific Fleet would essentially be confined to port for much of the year. There is no other outlet from Kamchackta.

In 2018, Russia and Japan opened negotiations about the future of this territory. These talks continue to drag on.

Japan and Military Issues

Russia and Japan have not come to blows over the Kuril Islands, and the rhetoric is not especially hot. Things are much different between Japan and North Korea, as well as Japan and China. These two countries have a very bad history with Japan.

Imperial Japan annexed Korea in 1910. Emperor Hirohito, who took the throne in 1926, had little control over the army. That is largely why the Allies spared him after World War II. So, there were a number of military atrocities in Korea during Japan’s occupation. The same conditions applied when Japan invaded China in 1931. The army committed a number of atrocities in China as well, including the notorious Rape of Nanking in 1936. 

The atrocities were bad enough. Making matters worse, many in Japan either deny that these things happened or insist that they have been blown out of proportion.

So, Japan has three very powerful potential enemies which are almost within a stone’s throw of the Home Islands. And, because of post-World War II limitations, Japan may only maintain a token self-defense force. Therefore, it is almost entirely dependent on the United States, and private military contractors, for protection.

Contractors in Japan

Most American servicemembers are stationed in Okinawa. The Americans were never welcome there, and during recent years, relations between the U.S. military and Japanese civilians have become increasingly strained. Indeed, the Americans planned to move most assets from Japan to Guam. But regional tensions over the South China Sea put those plans on hold.

Because of this friction, contractors are taking on additional responsibilities in Japan. Contractors offer deniability. Politicians in Tokyo can rightfully say the American military presence is decreasing, because contractors do not count in official tallies. Politicians in Washington can say the same thing to those who question the need to maintain a standing army in a foreign country.

Regardless of their official designation, contractors perform basically the same duties. In an inactive war zone like Japan, these duties usually include construction and security. American military installations need almost constant updating. Frequently, contractors perform these construction services. As for security, it is probably not accurate to compare contractors to Revolutionary War-era Minutemen. But contractors in Japan are constantly on call. China, Russia, and North Korea all have rather volatile leaders who could easily go off the rails.

Injury Compensation Available

Also regardless of their official designation, the Defense Base Act protects injured contractors. This protection applies to both trauma injuries, such as falls, and occupational diseases, such as toxic exposure. This protection usually consists of lost wage replacement and medical bill payment.

Procedurally, injured contractors must promptly report their injuries to their supervisors. This requirement is usually no problem in a trauma injury case. However, the DBA insurance company usually contests the severity of the injury. The reporting requirement can be problematic in an occupational disease claim, usually because the injury is not immediately apparent in most cases.

In either situation, it is usually best to work with an attorney from the beginning. Anyone who has ever taken on an insurance company for any reason knows how frustrating these efforts can be, especially if you are dealing with a serious injury at the time.

A few weeks later, there is usually a settlement conference. A third-party mediator reviews the medical records and other paperwork, then tries to forge a settlement between the victim and insurance company. Occasionally, these conferences are successful.

Much more frequently, these claims go to the next level. This next level is a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Usually, the ALJ is a Department of Labor employee. The DoL oversees the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, which includes the Defense Base Act. Thus, the ALJ is not affiliated with the DBA insurance company in any way.

This independence usually guarantees a fair hearing. At this hearing, attorneys may introduce evidence, make legal arguments, and challenge evidence. Many insurance companies do not want to risk a trial. Therefore, many claims settle prior to the ALJ review hearing.

For more information about DBA medical benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.