The Japan’s Foreign Ministry never had a dull moment during the last weekend. It was the headache of its own making. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Iturup, one of the Kuril Islands, on August 22 as part of his trip to the Far East.
It gave rise to stormy reaction on the part of Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun lodged a protest to Russia and then cancelled the planned visit of its Foreign Minister to Moscow. Tokyo refers to the Kuril Islands as «Northern Territories» – Hoppo Ryodo. According to the Japanese official position, the land is subject to territorial claims, but no territorial dispute can be unilateral. Japan is the only one to see it as a controversial issue. Russia says there is nothing to talk about. According to its stance, the status of the Kuril Islands is clearly defined by Yalta conference (February 1945) and the Potsdam conference (the declaration was signed on July 26 same year) of the states that made up the anti-Hitler’s coalition those days. The attempts of Japan to tell Russia’s leaders how to behave on their own territory is nothing but interference into foreign country internal affairs.
This point of view is offered by the statement made by Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on August 22 as a response to the Japan’s reaction to the Prime Minister Medvedev’s working trip that included Iturup Island. It rebukes the Japanese Foreign Ministry for ignoring the lessons of history and says Japan continues to put into doubt the universally recognized results of the Second World War on the eve of the 70th anniversary since its end. Such rhetoric puts into doubt the assurances of Japanese government stating that it respects the historic truth and the memory of dozens of millions people who lost their lives during the war in East Asia. The 70th anniversary since the Soviet Union’s victory over Japan is drawing near. Some researchers call it a peacemaking operation against the militarist Japan. The time is propitious to remember the events of those days, especially in view of the fact that some people suffer from the lapse of memory.
The Second World War did not end with the capitulation of Nazi Germany. Japan continued to fight against the United States, Great Britain and other allies of the Soviet Union in the Pacific. According to the estimates of Allied Command, the war in the Far East could have continued for 1,5-2 years to take away the lives of 1,5 million American and British servicemen. The USSR had to take the only right decision, no matter how difficult it was. In three months after the war with Germany ended, the Soviet Union joined the war against Japan responding to numerous requests of allies. Josef Stalin honored the commitments taken at Tehran and Yalta conferences.
On April 5, 1945, the USSR denounced the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact of 13 April 1941 letting Japan know it was next. The statement of the Soviet government said, that «The neutrality pact between the Soviet Union and Japan was concluded on April 13, 1941, that is, before the attack of Germany on the USSR and before the outbreak of war between Japan on the one hand and England and the United States on the other. Since that time the situation has been basically altered. Germany has attacked the USSR, and Japan, ally of Germany, is aiding the latter in its war against the USSR. Furthermore Japan is waging a war with the USA and England, which are allies of the Soviet Union. In these circumstances the neutrality pact between Japan and the USSR has lost its sense, and the prolongation of that pact has become impossible.»
For abstract principles some politicians, diplomats and historians criticize the Soviet government for denouncing the Pact. Let’s not go into details and recall numerous reasons to justify the act of denunciation. In many cases Japan openly deviated from the principle of neutrality. It went as far as to sink Soviet ships. Let’s just say that the leadership of the Soviet Union did not act in violation of international practice. It was not bloodthirsty by taking the decision to denounce the Pact, to the contrary, it sent an unambiguous signal to let the Japanese government know that the situation had drastically changed. Japan faced the prospect of waging a war against all the United Nations. It would have been more prudent to capitulate.
But Tokyo bit the bullet. It did not yield to reason after the leaders of the United States, Great Britain and China released the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945 (the USSR joined it on August 8, 1945). It said, «We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.» There was a faint hope to make Japan capitulate and evade more casualties. Alas! This failed to come true.
Then there was nothing left but to use force. On August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. The Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation began on 9 August 1945 to rapidly defeat Japan's Kwantung Army and take hold of main objects in the north-eastern part of China and North Korea. The Soviet forces commenced the combat actions simultaneously on three fronts to the east, west and north of Manchuria: the Khingan-Mukden, the Harbin-Kirin and the Sungari Offensive Operations. This was performed by the Trans-Baikal Front, the 1st Far Eastern Front and the 2nd Far Eastern Front correspondingly under Marshals of the Soviet Union Malinovsky, Meretskov, and Army General Purkaev supported by the Pacific Fleet led by Admiral Yumashev, the Amur Military Flotilla, three air defense armies and the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Army led by Marshall Khorloogiin Choibalsan. All the forces were under the specially formed Far East Command of the Soviet Union under Marshal of the Soviet Union Alexander Vasilevsky. The over 1,7 million strong Soviet-Mongolian force included around 30 thousand artillery pieces and mortars, over 5 thousand tanks and self-propelled artillery guns, 5,2 thousand aircraft and 93 warships. The over one million strong Japanese occupation forces consisted of over 1200 tanks, 6,6 thousand of artillery pieces, 1,900 aircraft and over 30 warships and gunboats.
The Soviet forces masterly delivered a rapid strike. As the offensive started on August 9, the Soviet fronts attacked the enemy on land, in air and at sea. The front extended to over 5 thousand kilometers. The Pacific Fleet cut sea lanes used to supply the Kwantung Army and attacked Japanese naval bases in North Korea. The armor and mechanized units of Trans-Baikal Front and cavalry formations of Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Army were rapidly advancing. The Front included units that had acquired experience during the war against fascist Germany. The Soviet and Mongolian forces delivered crushing blows to break through Japanese strongly fortified positions along the Amur and Ussuri rivers and on the Greater Khingan Range. On the fourth day of the Manchurian Offensive Operation the units of the 6th Guards Tank Army under the command of Colonel General Andrei Kravchenko made it through the Greater Khingan to reach the Manchurian plains advancing deep into the positions of Kwantung Army before the main forces approached the mountain range. During six days of offensive the 1st Far Eastern Front advanced 120-150 km, the Trans-Baikal Front – 250-450 km and the 2nd Far Eastern Front – 50-200 km.
Emperor Hirohito signed the Imperial Rescript of Surrender on August 14. At that the Japanese leadership ordered the Kwantung Army to offer stiffer resistance to the Red Army having ceased the hostilities against the American-British forces. The Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet forces in the Far East Marshall Vasilevsky sent an ultimatum on August 17, 1945, to General Otsuzo Yamada, the commander of the Kwantung Army. It demanded to cease all hostilities against the Soviet forces at 12:00 on August 20 along the front, lay down arms and surrender. To expedite the Japan’s capitulation air-borne forces landed on August 18-27 in Harbin, Shenyang, Changchun, Kirin, Lushun, Dalian, Pyongyang, Hamhung and other key cities of China and Korea. On August 19, the Japanese command on the continent ordered to surrender unconditionally. The great success in Manchuria allowed the Soviet Command to launch an offensive on the South Sakhalin Island. On August 18, the Soviet forces launched the Kuril Islands Landing Operation. The forces included the elements of Kamchatka Defense Area and the ships of Pacific Fleet. As a result, by the beginning of September the troops captured the northern islands, including the Urup Island, while the Pacific Fleet'sNorthern Pacific Flotilla seized the islands lying to the south of it. The crushing blow delivered against the Kwantung group of forces in the Far East was one of the decisive factors contributing to the defeat of Japan. Its militarist policy and useless resistance led to the unnecessary loss of many lives and made inevitable the capitulation to the United Nations, the countries making up the anti-Hitler’s coalition.
These are the historic lessons the Russian Foreign Minister talked about in the statement mentioned above. They should not be forgotten by Japan. Sergey Lavrov called on Tokyo to abandon the attempts to review the international law and concentrate on constructive efforts to improve the atmosphere of the Russia-Japan relations and develop mutually beneficial cooperation. The question is – will Japan listen to the reasonable advice?