Book Review: The 200-Year Untold History of Russo-Japanese Relations (KGB Aleksey Kirichenko)

Updated: Aug 11

For my Russian friends

FILE PHOTO: The 200-Year Untold History of Russo-Japanese Relations (2013) ©Gendaishichoshinsya
PHOTO: The 200-Year Untold History of Russo-Japanese Relations ©Gendaishicho

Author: Aleksey Kirichenko / Кириченко Алексей Алексеевич (ex-KGB colonel, Russian, 1936-2019)

Russian: Неизвестные моменты 200 лет японо-российских отношений.

ISBN: 978-4-329-00486-4 (RU)

Japanese: 知られざる日露の二百年

ISBN:4329004860 / 978-4329004864 (JP)


Russia and Japan shouldn't be divided.

Aleksey Kirichenko, KGB (1936-2019) was more like a researcher, analyst than being a case officer of KGB(1954-1991).


His conclusion was that the most difficult obstacle between Russia and Japan still is ''Japanese prisoners of war in the Soviet Union'' not the Kuril Islands dispute due to emotional involvement, tragic memories and trauma of families of 560,000 to 760,000 war prisoners. Moreover, approximately 60,000 to 347,000 POWs died in Soviet labour camps.


Aleksey Kirichenko wrote:


Historical incidents between the two nations were interpreted differently by each other thus it's necessary to review details of those incidents in order to improve Russo-Japanese relations. (1)


Not only this is the core spirit ''anti-historical revisionism'' of the entire book, but also it's the correct strategic direction of diplomacy of both countries even under the new Cold War (2018-) between China and USA of today.


This book is composed by eight chapters, incidents covered from 1600s (seventeenth century) until the end of Soviet Union (1991).


Chapter 1 - Russia Meets The Japanese From 1600s to mid 1800s


Surprisingly some Russian historian tells us that some Kiev Russian aristocrats had certain knowledge about Japanese in 1100s. However real face-to-face contact between Russians and Japanese people was first recorded in 1600s.


''An sich'' phase of the two nations' history begun from Kamchatka Peninsula, Aleutian Islands and Kuril Islands. And its synthesis will be reached in the same region with JP-RU peace treaty and real independence of Japan from the ''Cold War'' narrative.


Indeed, admitting both Kamchatka Peninsula and Kuril Islands as Russian territories is must in practice for Japan. In other words, admitting imperial Japan lost WW2 (1939-1945), embracing its defeat in order to achieve permanent peace with neighbours.


At the era, tempests frequently hit Japanese ships, and many Japanese fishermen were salvaged by Russian pioneers in the Russian Far East region. This was the beginning of contact. For instance, the legendary tale of Pyotr I Alekseevich (1672-1725) and Japanese castaway Dembei (1670-1714) is the best example (Dembei was brought to Moscow for establishing the first Japanese language school in 1701).


FILE PHOTO: Maurice Benyovszky (1746-86) ©Wikimedia / Public Domain
Maurice Benyovszky (1746-86) Image: Public Domain

Ex-Russian prisoner, a Hungarian military officer Maurice Benyovszky (1746-86) escaped from Kamchatka prison, then landed in Nagasaki, Japan in 1771. Then he warned Japanese people about ''Russian threat'' by a letter. It's completely unknown for Japanese teachers and students of today. The Hungarian fugitive Maurice Benyovszky's allegation is seen as the first third party attempt to divide Russia and Japan in the world history.


FILE PHOTO: Adam Laxman (1766-1806) ©Wikimedia / Public Domain
Adam Laxman (1766-1806) Image: Public Domain

Russian merchants thought Japan as the best market to expand their trade business after they successfully gained Alaska, Aleutian Islands and Russian America (1799 to 1867).


For instance,

Catherine the Great (1729-96) assigned Adam Laxman (1766-1806) a lieutenant in the imperial Russian military to Nemuro, Hokkaido to establish bilateral relations between Russia and Japan. In fact, Russia followed Dutch to become known by Japanese people. As the result, Edo government (1603-1868) allowed Russia to dock at Hakodate port for negotiations. However Laxman did not successfully establish any trade relations at the end.


FILE PHOTO: Nikolai Rezanov (1764-1807) ©Wikimedia / Public Domain