At the Far Eastern end of Eurasia, a worrying détente is in the offing. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin are growing closer, at least judging by the most recent summit between the two men in Vladivostok earlier this month.
Geographically Asian and culturally European, Vladivostok is Russia’s underdeveloped gateway to the Asia-Pacific. As a site for Abe and Putin’s summit, then, the symbolism was clear. In part, the meeting was meant to soothe over a territorial impasse regarding the four Kuril Islands, a legacy of World War II that stands in the way of full Russo-Japanese rapprochement and complicates economic cooperation. But at the most recent summit, there was more in the way of words than deeds. Echoing Putin’s regional development agenda, Abe expressed his vision for Vladivostok as “a model city” for bilateral economic cooperation.
Indeed, Vladivostok is in many ways a microcosm of the Russian Far East and Russia as a whole. Founded as a military outpost in the 1870s, the city is a relic of tsarist imperialism (Vladivostok roughly means “rule the east” in Russian) and Soviet militarism. Despite its advantageous location at the intersection of three of
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