Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Dangers of Maintaining a One-sided View of Russia
ISHIGOOKA Ken  / Journalist

September 28, 2014
Russia and the West have reached a dead end in their confrontation over the Ukrainian crisis. To the eyes of a longtime student of Russia such as myself, Western countries seem bent on denouncing Russia based on a simplistic "right-wrong," "black-white" scale, without showing any effort to understand the logic and values that drive Russia's actions.

I am not alone in feeling a sense of discomfort about the way the latest crisis is being played out in the media and analyzed in the West. There is growing doubt about the current situation among Japanese scholars and business partners of Russia.

Professor Numano Mitsuyoshi, a leading scholar on Russian and East European literature, visited the United States in February this year and found that the predominant view among American academics and intellectuals placed the blame entirely on Russia. "A hegemonic Russia with ambitions to revive the former Soviet Union was seeking to crush the aspirations of the Ukrainian people in their pursuit for freedom and independence," thus went the reasoning. In the Gendai Shiso (Contemporary Thought)magazine's special July edition on Russia, Professor Numano said he was both appalled and alarmed at how such a simplistic argument had gone unchallenged. And that same mood has reached Japan as well, making it difficult to openly voice any objective views on Russia.

This is not to say all of Russia's actions are justified. Burdened by enormous problems and prone to actions full of contradictions – that is what Russia is about. In the famous words left by former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, Russia "is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Even so, Russia does have its own logic and values. There is nothing to be gained from repeatedly showering one-sided criticism and slapping sanctions on Russia.

The collapse of the Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych and the emergence of a pro-Western administration has been explained as a sequence of events that began when the pro-Russian Yanukovych administration abandoned the idea of joining the European Union under Russian pressure, which led to massive protests by the people and the establishment of a government based on freedom and democracy. While this gives the impression of a united stand for freedom by the Ukrainian people, in reality pro-Russian residents in Eastern Ukraine were unenthusiastic from the start.

Moreover, what began as peaceful demonstrations against Yanukovych had turned into a military struggle in the end, as armed insurgents moved to the fore and seized power in a gunfight. That was why Russia criticized it as a "coup d'etat." The interim government meanwhile hailed it as a "people's revolution." Some political scientists in Japan claim it was a classic "armed revolution."

As for Russia's annexation of Crimea, Western countries initially explained that several tens of thousands of invading troops had staged a military occupation. However, there were no eye-witness accounts of such troops. And on the peninsula, the government and parliament of the Republic of Crimea went about their business as usual. Western countries later replaced the expression "military occupation" to "deployment of the Russian Black Sea Fleet," but this was also an exaggeration. Ignorant about the vigilante bands and other armed insurgents that are active in Eastern Ukraine, the West tends to lay the blame entirely on the military. Inevitably, analysis of the ensuing civil war in Eastern Ukraine becomes insufficient. And as a result, vigilante troops have been criticized as "Russian terrorists" by the Ukrainian government, and as the "Russian army" by the West.

Anger against the latest political upheaval runs deep among the Russian people, who feel strongly sympathetic or supportive towards ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine. Russia will neither apologize nor submit. If it did, the Putin administration will certainly see its foundation collapse. Already, posts labeling Putin a "traitor" have appeared on the Internet. One call asking regular soldiers whether they were ready to fight for their brethren in Ukraine would immediately move several thousands to volunteer, enabling the formation of an elite corps. The Russian people are already cheering volunteers who have actually set off to fight in Eastern Ukraine.

Russians also hold a grudge on the downing of the Malaysian aircraft. Personally, I think it was a missile misfired by armed insurgents in Eastern Ukraine. President Putin would not have ordered a commercial aircraft shot down. And there is much doubt as to the extent of Putin's control over the armed insurgents. Yet, there was widespread condemnation of Russian backing for the insurgents, implicating the country in the airline incident as well, which significantly weakened the standing of Russia and of President Putin.

The point becomes clear when we compare this incident to the attack on an Iranian aircraft by a U.S. naval warship that occurred in 1988. Did the United States come under international criticism over the incident? "Are we being condemned because this time the victims were European, instead of Iranian?" That is how it would seem from a Russian perspective, and it has also caused a backlash against Western double standards.

The Western media is unanimous in their simplistic "right or wrong," "black or white" criticism of Russia. And the tone adopted by the U.S. and European media is being repeated in the Japanese media, which seems fraught with dangers. Moreover, news reports by both Western and Japanese media contain far too many misinterpretations of the Russian language or incorrect quotations from President Putin's speeches.

If we are to avoid any further expansion of the tragedy in Ukraine, our priority should be on considering what we could be doing, instead of trading accusations. We live in a world of diverse values and systems that requires us to give more thought to the importance of offering compromises and concessions based on an effort to understand the other side.

Ken Ishigooka is a journalist and former special editor of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

石郷岡 健 / ジャーナリスト  

2014年 9月 28日



 ロシアの行動がすべて正しいということではない。もともと大きな問題を抱え、矛盾に満ちた行動をするのがロシアである。チャーチル英元首相は「ロシアは謎の中の謎の謎である」(It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma )との有名な言葉を残している。それでもロシアにはロシアの論理と価値観がある。一方的な批判をいくら繰り返し、制裁を課しても、意味はない。









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Dangers of Maintaining a One-sided View of Russia