The leadership of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan and Japan discussed bilateral cooperation in late March. As the accompanying excerpts show, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov stressed to Japanese counterparts and business leaders that Tatarstan is a highly developed economy which can be helpful to Japan, and that Japan's investments will boost not only Tatarstan and other regions close to Europe, but also Russia's Far East.
Tatarstan, by some accounts, emerged as one of Russia's most economically prosperous regions. Minnikhanov made his comments in the context of increasing cooperation between Japan and Russia in recent months.
In previous years relations between Russia and Japan have been strained, primarily because of a dispute over four uninhabited islands between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific. Soviet forces seized these islands from Japan on the tail end of World War II. Russia calls them the Southern Kurils and Japan—the Northern Territories. Feelings surrounding these islands were so high in both countries that Moscow and Tokyo did not sign a treaty ending World War II hostilities. Hostile relations persisted for decades afterwards. Only four years ago the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to militarize these islands and received a strong protest from Tokyo.
Yet in recent months Japan and Russia turned a new leaf and began to cooperate in the face of a greater common threat—China. Tokyo is concerned about China's military growth, while Moscow is worried about China's economic growth and encroachment in its Far East, in addition to its military strength.
The Kremlin is seeking Japanese investment, especially in the oil and gas sector in the Far East, where Russia feels most vulnerable to China. Such investment is advantageous to Japan: given its geographic proximity to this region, Japan can cut costs for importing its energy, which it sorely needs. This is most likely why Minnikhanov stressed that Japanese investments could boost this region.
Russia and Japan also increased military and security cooperation. For example, in September 2013 the two countries' foreign and defense ministers signed agreements on counterpiracy and counterterrorism cooperation. They also agreed to more regular consultation between their maritime staffs. Russia's other regions may soon follow Tatarstan's example when it comes to increasing ties with Japan.