Staunton, Nov. 4 – There are fewer than 1000 members of the Ainu nationality in the Russian Federation and an estimated 20,000 of them in Japan, but the Russian foreign ministry has denounced Tokyo for seeking to put in play this ethnic group whose homeland in the past was centered in the disputed Kurile Islands (Northern Territories).
After Japan hosted a conference earlier this fall in Sapporo on the Ainu issue, the Russian foreign ministry said that this was “a provocation” and represented an effort by Tokyo to “involve the Ainu in the struggle for the Kuriles” (octagon.media/politika/tokio_podklyuchaet_aborigenov_k_borbe_za_kurily.html).
According to RFE/RL commentator Andrey Filimonov, Moscow’s reaction and the Octagon Media report about that were fully “in the spirit of Soviet diatribes about the sad fate of American Indians” (sibreal.org/a/zagadochnye-mohnatye-kuriltsy-otkuda-prishli-i-kuda-ischezli-ayny/32657717.html).
It is unclear just how Japan might use the Ainu in this political struggle given their numbers and complicated history, but Moscow’s angry words show just how sensitive it has become to anything that looks like ethnic mobilization inside the Russian Federation especially if it has foreign support.
For background on the Ainu and their place in Russian-Japanese relations, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/10/a-neglected-victim-of-moscows.html, windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2011/04/window-on-eurasia-russias-ainu.html, and windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2011/04/window-on-eurasia-russias-ainu.html.