13.03.2024 Author: Nazar Kurbanov

Japan’s fake support for Ukraine

Ukraine Japan

From the very beginning of the Special Military Operation, Japan has taken one of the harshest anti-Russian positions, imposing several sets of sanctions, regularly updating them and adding new ones (curiously, there is currently no postal communication between Russia and Japan). At the same time, Japan has repeatedly condemned our country’s Special Military Operation and emphasised its commitment to fully support Ukraine and the Zelenskyy regime. But is everything so unambiguous?

The Japan-Ukraine Conference on Promoting Economic Growth was held in Tokyo on 19 February with the participation of the Prime Ministers of the two countries (Fumio Kishida and Denys Shmyhal, who held separate talks). The conference itself was attended by some 300 representatives of the business communities of the two countries, and 56 cooperation documents were signed, which can generally be summarised in three points of “Japan’s unique contribution” to the Ukrainian economy: 1) “Inclusiveness”, which is expressed in the promotion of the role of women in the resolution of armed conflicts (Women, Peace, Security – WPS); 2) “Partnership”, which is Japan’s consideration of the needs of the Ukrainian side, as it is emphasised that Ukraine will be rebuilt by the “people of Ukraine” themselves; “Knowledge and technology”, under which the Japanese side proposed a mechanism of public-private partnership based on the Japanese experience of post-disaster reconstruction. In addition, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced five concrete steps to increase Japanese investment in the Ukrainian economy:

  • Signing of a tax convention as part of the development of the legal infrastructure, start of negotiations on the revision of the investment agreement between the two countries;
  • Agreement that Ukraine will be supported by international financial institutions, in particular through a capital increase of EBRD (The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and a two-stage loan of BSTDB (The Black Sea Trade and Development Bank);
  • It was agreed to implement bilateral public-private partnership projects through Official Development Assistance (ODA) institutions and to increase private sector investment for Ukrainian businessmen in venture capital;
  • An agreement was reached to open an office of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in Kyiv to expand business ties, investment and trade between the two countries. In addition, Japan’s state export credit agency NEXI will open new credit lines to reduce investment and trade risks for Japanese companies;
  • The sides agreed to sign agreements on easing the visa regime for some categories of Ukrainian citizens.

We believe that despite the beautiful phrases and emphasised positive attitude of both sides, Japan, at the expense of Ukraine, is primarily trying to increase its political significance and at the same time to strengthen its economic potential in front of the Western countries and the entire world community.

The attempt to strengthen political influence in the world is most clearly seen in the support of the Women, Peace, Security (WPS) initiative, whose mission is to increase the role of women in resolving armed conflicts, reduce brutality and violence, and prevent these conflicts. This concept was proposed by the US (the law was passed by Congress in 2017) and aimed not only at ensuring equal rights or gender equality, but at creating another powerful leverage through various kinds of non-governmental, “near-government” organisations and institutions around the world. Japan is one of the main proponents of this initiative, as it has a reputation as a victim of atomic bombings and a country where women outnumber men. Ukraine emphasises in every possible way that the proportion of women in the armed forces exceeds even the indicators of NATO countries, therefore, it has changed the name “Defenders Day” to “Day of Men and Women Defenders”. Now Ukraine is trying to call up more women for military service. Therefore, Japan’s use of the WPS initiative in Ukraine is extremely beneficial for Japan, as it can re-emphasise its solidarity with the United States and Western countries, and at the same time re-strengthen its image in the eyes of its Western allies as a country fighting for peace.

Another attempt by Japan to strengthen its political influence, but through economic leverage, can be seen in Japan’s increased investment in international institutions such as the EBRD (The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and BSTDB (The Black Sea Trade and Development Bank). I would like to emphasise that Japan is not increasing its aid to Ukraine, it is increasing its aid primarily to international financial institutions that provide assistance to Ukraine. Curiously, not all the funds reach Ukraine. For example, in 2023, Tokyo increased its loan to the World Bank by $5.5 billion to further aid Ukraine. However, according to The World Bank, the amount of $914 million (one fifth of the total amount) remains “unrealised”, and no one knows the actual amount that actually reached Ukrainian citizens. Nevertheless, the world media came out with the headlines, “Japan has allocated aid to Ukraine”, which allowed Japan to emphasise its solidarity with its allies, and at the same time to seriously strengthen its position in the structures of the World Bank – the most important financial institution, which still has to pay the loan to the Japanese government with the corresponding interest. In our opinion, a similar scheme will be extended to the EBRD (The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and BSTDB (The Black Sea Trade and Development Bank).

In terms of bilateral cooperation, Japan’s objectives are as follows: 1) demining and debris removal; 2) improving the humanitarian situation and restoring peaceful life; 3) increasing agricultural productivity; 4) introducing biotechnology and other advances in production; 5) introducing digital technologies; 6) developing energy and transport infrastructure; 7) improving public administration and fighting corruption. These goals are in line with the general policy of Western countries, especially the US, towards Ukraine, which again allows Japan to show solidarity with its allies. In our opinion, however, the main issue here is not solidarity at all, but the inclusion of Japan in the race to divide the Ukrainian economy. This is particularly evident in the purely economic points (No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 and partly No. 7).

With regard to agriculture, since 2021 the US corporations Cargill, Dupont and Monsanto have bought up a third (16.7 million hectares) of Ukrainian agricultural land – Kyiv had a total of 40 million hectares. In addition, the beneficiaries of Ukraine’s agricultural sector include companies such as NCH Capital (USA), AgroGeneration (France); ADM Germany, KWS, Bayer and BASF (Germany) and even the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company (SALIC) from Saudi Arabia. Under these circumstances, the signing of a tax convention and the negotiation of an investment agreement between Japan and Ukraine allow Japanese companies to participate in the division of Ukrainian agriculture.

The transport sector is directly linked to the agricultural sector. Thus, Japan has committed to rehabilitate the road network in the south-west of the country and build a bridge to Romania. This step again reflects a general trend among Western countries to build or upgrade transport infrastructure through south-western Ukraine towards Romania and Poland (as sea communications are blocked) in order to continue exporting grain grown by Western corporations.

As for the energy, scientific and technological spheres of Ukraine, Japan is not acting out of “goodwill” either. Back in November 2023, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a meeting within the G7 and the group’s partners (Ukraine and the European Union or G7+) highlighted Ukraine’s adoption of the “Regulations on the Integrity and Transparency of the Wholesale Energy Market”, as well as anti-monopoly legislation to create a favourable business environment. This means that Ukraine has officially opened its energy market to external players. Therefore, in the current actions of Japan (especially in the proposals to open JETRO offices and new credit lines from NEXI), one can discern a classic attempt not only to participate in the division of these sectors, but also to “tie” as many enterprises as possible to Japanese technologies and relevant personnel, who will be trained according to Japanese methods.

It is necessary to speak about “improvement of public administration”, which can be understood as banal stimulation of capital outflow from Ukraine, but this time not to Europe or the USA, but to Japan itself. Here we should pay attention to the terms of easing the visa regime between Ukraine and Japan. The official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan says: “Multiple-entry visas (valid for 5 years, with a period of stay of up to 90 days allowed for each visit) will be issued to applicants with substantially high incomes and their families”. Since Ukraine’s businessmen are closely linked to the extremely corrupt political elite, these lines, along with the phrase “fight against corruption,” take on a particularly cynical character. In addition, full-time employees of Ukrainian companies involved in co-operation projects between the two countries have also been added to the list of persons covered by the relaxation of the visa regime, which once again demonstrates Japan’s desire to safeguard its own economic interests.

Thus, Japan is using Ukraine very successfully and pragmatically for its economic and political interests, participating in the division of key sectors of the Ukrainian economy (agriculture, transport, energy and scientific and technological spheres), stimulating the outflow of capital, increasing its role in international financial institutions, not forgetting to publicly emphasise its solidarity with Western countries and above all with the United States, which further strengthens its position within the Western camp.


Nazar KURBANOV, trainee, Centre for Spatial Analysis of International Relations, Institute for International Studies, MGIMO, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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