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N. M. Karamzin and the South Kuril Islands

Not an inch to foe or friend!

N. M. Karamzin

Everyone knows that every nation has its traitors – today, in the past and in the future. Russia has had quite a few. The amazing thing is that Russia is apparently the only country where traitors don’t need to hide their intentions. They even get to advertise these intentions in print and incite the government to commit treason.

Examples are plentiful, but I choose one concrete case for my illustration: the so-called problem of the South Kuril Islands, known in Japan as the “Northern territories” problem. From time to time discussions on this topic erupt in the mass media, in the Duma assembly, in various scientific symposiums and conferences.

It is well known that some politicians, most notably a certain group of Japan experts in the democrats camp, favor “returning” the South Kuril Islands to Japan. In other words, they openly promote a violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. I know of no other country in the world where part of its citizens favor ceding their country’s territory to a foreign state. Should something like that ever happen, it would create quite a sensation, with unfortunate consequences for these citizens. In Russia, however, the “returnists” aren’t only spared imprisonment – they occupy high posts in Academy of Science research institutions.

The single most odious figure among this bunch is Mr. V. Ramzes, a Doctor of Economic Science who works at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations (IWEIR). Since is he considered to be a scholar and a professional Japan expert, let us attempt to sort out the logic of his treason. This Doctor has stated his position very candidly in an article published by a magazine where he is editor-in-chief. The title of the article is Enough Already of This Nonsense (the magazine Meet Japan, issue #30, 2000). Since the author isn’t shy about using strong words to describe his opponents, I have no choice but to follow his example, that is, not worry about my own choice of words.

Ramzes the agnostic

The entire concept of this agnostic scholar (that’s his title for himself) rests on the fact of the “theft” of the South Kuril Islands from poor Japan. “They were stolen, after all” – that’s the refrain that resonates through the article. Once we accept this fact, there is no need to analyze the military-strategic or economic importance of these islands to Russia’s interests. Since Russia stole the islands, that is, committed a sin, it should expiate the sin by giving the islands back to Japan.

In Vladimir Dal’s famous dictionary the meaning of the verb krast’ (“to steal”) is explained thusly: “take others’ property clandestinely, carry it off, or to appropriate stuff secretly.” But it is a known fact that the Soviet Union took these islands quite openly, never concealing its intentions from Japan or from any party whatever. Moreover, the USSR had reached an advance agreement with its then allies – the USA and the UK – that it would take the islands. The allies were glad to agree to that, since in return the Soviet Union promised to take care of the million-strong Kwantung Army stationed in Manchuria, and then went ahead and did it, in a brilliant operation that took all of two weeks. Thus did the USSR save many allied troops’ lives in the war against Japan.

Therefore the USSR did not steal the territories in question; it conquered them in accordance with the norms of the geo-strategic conflicts of that time. Japan did the exact same thing to tsarist Russia in 1905 when it won the war and took half of Sakhalin Island. Every imperialist state that has ever expanded its borders through wars has done the same. That’s exactly how the current borders of most countries were established; victors acquired some territories, losers lost some. So it turns out that most state borders in the world are to some degree the results of “theft”. So should one follow the logic of Dr. Ramzes the democrat, all stolen territories must be returned by all states, no matter when the “thefts” happened. One can imagine the upheaval that would create in the world; the current mess in the Balkans is but a modest hint of that kind of trouble.

This “biblical prophet” may object, of course, and argue that the Soviet Union’s attack on Japan was prepared through “a shameless violation of the proper procedure for denouncing The Neutrality Pact of 1941.”

To this I say: firstly, why call the violation “shameless”? Were they any less shameless - Japan’s attack on Russia in 1904, without declaration of war, or the attack on Manchuria in 1931, or the attack on Inner China in 1937, or, finally, the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941? What kind of gentlemanly dealings can one expect from an aggressor state? Did this prophet actually forget the lessons of Khalkin Gol and Lake Hasan? Or the occupation of the Russian Far East in 1918 by those same samurai warriors?

Secondly, the USSR did indeed violate the proper procedure for denouncing The Neutrality Pact of 1941, but at the same time it did diligently follow the procedure of various agreements with its allies. Even the latter fact, though, matters not at all. In this connection I am amused by the efforts of certain Japan experts from the patriotic camp to justify the Soviet Union’s “violations” through references to some sort of documents, international law and other such nonsense. All this doesn’t convince anyone anyway, since POWER is the principal, main and only argument in geo-strategic battles. It is so, it was always so, and it will always be so. Leave the moralizing to writers or to promoters of “universal human values”; that’s their sphere. Scholars must proceed from realities that shape up in accordance with the laws and regularities of international relations; the single most important one of these, I repeat, is the law of power.

Does Ramzes the agnostic even know these laws? Let’s see how much of a scholar he is.

Let us touch for starters on the economic aspect, which Dr. Ramzes should know well, being an economist by profession. He writes: “Changes become ever more numerous and radical. It suffices to invoke globalization, which emasculates the notion itself of “state borders” and confers extraordinary mobility on intra-country and international situations.”

One may ask: if globalization does indeed emasculate the notion itself of “state borders,” why should anyone be concerned about these borders? Let the Japanese “globalize” the disputed islands through economic and commercial activity conducted there. Better still, no one objects to such a development. So what’s the problem?

In actual fact there are indeed some problems here. This Doctor of Economics obviously fails to understand that “globalization” does not cancel state borders. Let him try and make use of this “globalization” to visit his beloved Japan without a visa. Moreover, globalization is actually only one segment of the world economy, encompassing mainly the sphere of banking and finance. The bigger part of the world economy functions in the field of internationalization. Its European part finds itself in the sphere of integration. Specific to each of these areas are its own laws of economic development that often enter into serious conflict when they intersect. Shame on an economist who doesn’t know such elementary things.

The agnostic has apparently gone gaga over “universal human values,” which are, in his opinion, almost equivalent to “supreme state interests.” He doesn’t understand to this day that it is precisely these “universal human values,” made the basis of the Soviet Union’s official foreign policy under Gorbachev, that pushed the USSR toward defeat in the international arena and subsequently within the country. This liberalist (a word coined by Karamzin) is evidently constrained by his ideological blinkers to experience piety toward the USA – the country that helped bring about the collapse of the hated (by him) Communist regime in the Soviet Union. Well, consider this: the Americans are in fact highly dismissive of all these “universal human values,” as evidenced by all their strategic doctrines which proclaim only the interests of the USA and the American people in the international arena – and of no one else. It is their own American values that they implement in their practical activity. The Japanese do likewise: they promote very clearly and consistently their own interests and refrain from offering in the name of “universal human values” to return to China the Diaoyu Islands taken from it, or the Tokto islands to South Korea. Only two kinds of people are capable of going on about “universal human values”: those who know nothing about foreign policy and international relations, and those who serve a foreign state. Or the kind of people who combine both qualities.

Since Dr. Ramzes calls himself an agnostic, that is, a person who considers it impossible to learn the objective laws of the world, the regularities in development of natural and social phenomena, we may suppose that he belongs to the category of “know-nothings”. But considering that he works for a magazine sponsored by Japan that promotes openly an anti-Russian course on the issue of territorial integrity, we may be inclined to believe the other option: traitor. As a result, a third option presents itself: a pro-Japanese agnostic of a Russian make. On top of that, Dr. Ramzes is ethnically a Jew, as he reports in that same article.

Ethnic Jew Ramzes vs. Ethnic Jews Moses and King David

Generally speaking, the kind of ideas Ramzes promotes would likely earn him a cherem (religious damnation and casting out) from the Jewish community. All this Christian propaganda (turn the other cheek, etc.) is too much at odds with the laws of the Torah, one of which says: Ain mahat ain, men mahat men (“eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”). Following the will of Yahweh, the Jews, led by Moses, “stole” quite a lot of land from other peoples in the forty years that they wandered in the wilderness. As for King David, he didn’t just “steal” – he did such deeds as: “And the people that were in it, he brought out that he might put them at sawing stones and at sharp instruments of iron and at axes of iron, and he made them serve at brickmaking (italics mine – A.B.). And that was the way he proceeded to do to all the cities of the sons of Am'mon. Finally David and all the people returned to Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 12:31

So it turns out that the know-how on “brickmaking” belongs not to the Nazis, as I thought previously, but to children of Israel. But that’s not the most important thing here. The important thing is that the Jewish conquerors of that ancient era are little different from today’s ethnic Jews who are for some reason unwilling to hand back the Arab territories they seized in the victorious Six-day War. Are these, too, traces of “Communist barbarism”?

The thing is, the ethnically Jewish agnostic sees the causes of Russia’s current “anti-Japanese policy” in the remnants of “the loathsome imprint of Communist barbarism,” “the vile Soviet mentality.” This comes from the pen of the man who used to be the Communist Party Secretary for the Japan Department of IWEIR and demanded strict compliance with Party discipline, especially in the matter of membership dues.

Enough about Jews; let’s look how territorial issues were resolved in Russia in ancient times, that is, prior to the era of “Soviet mentality.” I looked at the writings of early 19th century historian N. M. Karamzin and found some amazing things there. They are so interesting and useful to the current rulers of Russia that I am compelled to reproduce here almost in their entirety Karamzin’s thoughts from his epistle to Tsar Alexander I, titled A Russian Citizen’s Opinion.

Karamzin on guard for Russia’s state interests

This is how the famous historian understands the state interests of Russia:

“You are considering re-establishing the ancient Kingdom of Poland, but would that be in agreement with the law of the good of the Russian state? In agreement with Your sacred duties, with Your love for Russia and for fairness as such? Firstly, I ask: would Austria relinquish Galitsia of its own will (and I won’t even mention Prussia)? … Secondly, can You in good conscience take away from us Byelorussia, Lithuania, Volyn’ and Podol – lands that were established properties of Russia before Your reign? Don’t sovereigns swear to defend the integrity of their realms? These lands already were part of Russia when Metropolitan Platon handed to you the crown of Vladimir Monomakh, of Peter I and of Catherine II, whom You yourself called the Great. Many will say that Her partition of Poland was unlawful. But You would do an even more unlawful deed, were You to decide to correct Her injustice through a partition of Russia itself. We took Poland by the sword: that is our right, the right to which all states own their existence, since they are all put together of conquests. Catherine answers to God, answers to History for her deed; but it is done, and to You, this is already sacred: to You, Poland is a lawful possession of Russia. There are no ancient treaties in politics: otherwise we would be obliged to reestablish the Kingdoms of Kazan and Astrakhan, the Republic of Novgorod, the Principality of Ryazan, and so on. Besides, even according to ancient treaties Byelorussia, Volyn', Podol and Galitsia were once parts of the original Russian state. Should You give them away, You will face demands to do likewise with Kiev, Chernigov and Smolensk, since all these cities belonged for a long time to the hostile Lithuania. It’s all or nothing. To this day it has been the rule of our state: not an inch to either foe or friend!... Such is our character and the spirit of our state. You, with your love of civil liberty – would you treat Russia as soulless, speechless property? Would you split it willfully into parts and gift them to whoever you like? Russia is silent before You, Sire, but should the ancient realm of Poland be rebuilt (God forbid!) and produce some day a worthy, sincere, unprejudiced historian – that man would condemn your magnanimity, Sire, as detrimental to Your true Fatherland – Russia the kind, the strong. That historian would say something quite different from what the Poles may be telling You currently; we forgive them, but we Russians would not forgive You, should you plunge us into despair for the sake of their applause. … I hear Russians, and I know them: we stand to lose not only wonderful regions, but our love for the Tsar as well; our souls would cool to our Fatherland, were we to see it as a plaything for autocratic arbitrariness; we would be weakened in spirit, as well as through the reduction of the state; we would be humiliated before others and before ourselves. Your palace would not empty, of course; You would still have ministers and generals; but they would be serving only their personal gains rather than their Fatherland, like mercenaries, like true slaves…

In a word… Let the Lord, the Knower of hearts, seal my lips with death this instant if I speak untruth to You… in a word, re-establishment of Poland would mean the fall of Russia, or else our children would paint the Polish land red with their blood once again and take Praha by storm once again!

No, Sire, the Poles will never be to us sincere brothers or faithful allies. They are now weak and insignificant: the weak don’t like the strong, while the strong despise the weak; once you strengthen them, they will want independence, of which the first experience will be to pull away from Russia – not in Your reign, of course, but you, Sire, should look beyond your age; though not immortal in body, you are immortal in glory! In affairs of state feelings and gratitude have no say; independence is the main law of civil societies. Lithuania, Volyn' desire a Polish Kingdom, while we desire a unified Russian Empire. Whose voice should be heard better in Your heart? In the event of a war, unlikely though it is (for who can attack Russia now?), they may betray us: we shall then punish their treason through might and right: right always has its special power, while rebellion, being lawlessness, takes it away. Poles confirmed by law in the dignity of a separate sovereign nation are more dangerous to us than Russian-citizen Poles (italics are mine – A.B.).”

Between Russia and Japan there is no territorial issue

In this small fragment N. M. Karamzin gives an example of service to the Fatherland, to its state interests. Moreover, he also gives an example of understanding of the laws of foreign policy and international relations. This fragment from the great Russian historian is also an object lesson for the current rulers of Russia. I want to point out now several important principles which must guide all those who care about Russia:

Firstly, all of Karamzin’s discourse is centered on the idea of “the good of Russia”, not the good of anyone else. Everything is viewed precisely through the lens of Russia’s interests.

Secondly, he warns the Tsar directly: you have no business giving away territories conquered “before Your reign,” that is, not by you. They were conquered by ancestors, many of whom paid for them with their lives. Giving away these territories amounts to sullying their memory, spitting on many lives sacrificed for the glory of the Fatherland.

Thirdly, it is precisely the Sword that was the means of acquiring territories. The sword is our right. It is precisely through the sword that states and borders were created. That is, Force defined the “existence” of states, in expansion as well as in defense. The current talks of the declining importance of military strength are nothing but hot air from ignorant members of the intelligentsia, fixated on “the beauty that will save the world.” If they are indeed correct, let them explain why are military expenditures the single largest budget item for the states that define the structure of international relations. Is it really because of the silly leaders of these states? Oh, the naïve babes. If Russia didn’t have some strategic nuclear weapons left, Japan would not be asking to return “the Northern Territories”, with the support of the USA – it would have taken them back long ago, the way it did in earlier times unto then-weak Korea and China.

Fourthly, “there are no ancient treaties in politics”; pretending otherwise leads to the erosion of the state, its eventual self-inflicted collapse.

Fifthly, once you give land to anyone at all, others will start making demands, and a chain reaction will be ignited. The most recent example is provided by the Albanians, who took Kosovo and now make demands on Macedonia. Once Russia gives away “the Northern islands”, it will next face demands to give back Kaliningrad (Königsberg), then Vyborg, and so on.

Sixthly, the loss of territories isn’t even the most serious loss. The most important thing is the weakening of the nation’s “spirit”. The purpose of serving the Fatherland is replaced by pursuit of selfish mercenary interests. Why strain and struggle, when the next Tsar can easily give away all that has been paid for with blood and lives?

Seventhly, a comment on our allies and brothers the Poles: Karamzin gave an accurate forecast of their conduct on the basis of his geopolitical analysis. The Poles have never become sincere brothers to us. It’s not because they are worse than some others, but because a country’s strategic interests always prevail over national and even religious interests. The brotherhood of Slavic peoples is a myth; they have always betrayed each other and will continue to do so – the Bulgarians, the Poles, the Serbs, all of them – whenever they stand to benefit or believe that they stand to benefit from a betrayal. It’s no accident that Karamzin formulated his appeal in this precise fashion: not an inch to foe – or friend! He understood that today’s friend may be tomorrow’s enemy. One must be guided by strategic calculations in dealings with everyone, including Slavs. It’s a classical axiom, often forgotten by Russians with respect to “brotherly nations”.

Eighthly, “feelings and gratitude have no say” in politics, in affairs of state. Russia has rescued other peoples and nations countless times: the Germans in times of the Napoleonic wars, the French and British in the two World Wars, not to mention the Slavic brothers in the endless Balkan wars. But every time Russia found itself in trouble, or in a critical situation, they all abandoned Russia, and at every opportunity even sought to make acquisitions at Russia’s expense. What kind of gratitude can exist in politics? There is only room for cold calculation in determining national interests and the most efficient methods of defending them – that’s the alpha and omega of rational foreign policy.

All that N. M. Karamzin wrote almost two centuries ago is totally applicable in our time. The paradoxical thing is that his prescriptions for defending the Fatherland’s interests, written for Russians, are in fact being implemented by Americans. All strategic doctrines of the USA seem to have been written along Karamzin’s guidelines. The results are there for all to see: America has become the sole hegemon in the world.

As for the Russians, they seized on a variety of liberalist ideas from the West – ideas that the West itself never followed in real international policy – implemented them in Russia’s foreign policy practice and ruined the country. Having already lost huge territories, they are still busy deciding what else can be given away. Take these same Southern Kurils: negotiations are being conducted with the Japanese on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs level about resolving “the territorial issue”. They are quite seriously prepared to hand over right away the Shikotan and Habomai Islands, should the Japanese agree. They claim that it was spelled out in the Joint Declaration of 1956; that Khrushchev promised to give back these islands, but failed to keep his promise.

Well, firstly, he failed to give the islands back because the Japanese proclaimed their intention, stated by Aitiro Fujiyama, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, to build military bases there for the Americans. Secondly, thank god that he didn’t give them back. It’s time to forget about that Declaration. Back then there was a certain situation; today there is an entirely different one. No good neighborly relations will be strengthened by handing over the islands; it will only be another demonstration of Russia’s weakness. The lot of the weak is to be despised. Let no one be fooled by claims that the handing over of the islands would give a big boost to commerce and economic cooperation between Japan and Russia. In fact, commerce was developing more intensively in the Soviet era, when the USSR held a hard-line position. As soon as Russia’s policy started displaying softness, indecision and ambiguity, trade went into sharp decline; just look at the trade dynamics over the past ten years. The level of economic relations depends on other factors entirely; most importantly, it depends on the state and structure of each country’s economy. International relations don’t get any more hostile than those between Taiwan and China, but trade between the two is flourishing, Taiwanese investment in “the Red economy” keeps growing.

I could show in detail the economic, geo-strategic, political and other kinds of importance of these islands to Russia. I could make use of legal casuistry in analyzing all treaties and agreements that have to do with this problem. But I refrain from doing all this because, I repeat, it all doesn’t matter. Our agnostic identifies the correct point, except that he is precisely wrong on this point. There are interests of Russia, Russia alone, and they rank above everything else.

The country’s current rulers must state it perfectly clearly to the Japanese: there are no territorial issues between us, and that is that. What you lost, you lost; we entertain no discussions, no references to declarations and treaties. After that let them trade with us or stop trading; no one will notice either way, since the volume of this trade is miniscule anyway.

All pro-Japan lobbyists who dare promote Japanese interests must be put on trial for treason to the state interests of Russia. As for Ramzes the agnostic, I’m certain that the court will determine him to be insane and likely commit him to a mental-health institution, where he belongs.

Alex Battler

The Strategic Contours of East Asia in 21st Sentury: Russia: Not a Step Forward (Moscow: Aliyans, 2001), p. 174-182.