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Gang of Two

Russia and Japan Make a Play for the Pacific

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Kremlin in Moscow, April 2013. Courtesy Reuters

On November 2, Russia and Japan held their first-ever “two plus two” meeting, which brought together their respective foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo to discuss security cooperation. The meeting grabbed few headlines, but was far from routine: such gatherings are typically reserved for close allies, and for most of their modern history, Moscow and Tokyo have been anything but.

Now, however, the two countries find themselves linked by a shared predicament in the Asia-Pacific. Both are secondary players in a region overshadowed by an increasingly assertive China, which has not hesitated to push against the boundaries of its neighbors. New ties between Russia and Japan would mark not only a breakthrough in their relations but also a significant shift in Northeast Asia’s political dynamic. Since the 1950s, U.S. alliances with Japan and South Korea have dominated regional security. Russia and China thawed their frosty relationship in the 1990s

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