Russia detains Japanese diplomat ‘caught red-handed’ spying

Russia has announced that it has detained a Japanese diplomat the Kremlin claims had been caught “red-handed” spying.

The diplomat was named by Moscow as Motoki Tatsunori, Tokyo’s consul in the eastern city of Vladivostok.

He was accused of trying to buy classified information about another country cooperating with Russia.

In a statement, Russia’s FSB security service said the Japanese diplomat accused of spying had been ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.

It claimed: “A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region.”

While the third country was not named, it led to inevitable speculation that it could be China.

Japan’s consul was also accused by Russia of trying to obtain information about “the impact of western sanctions” on the eastern Primorsky region. Moscow released a video it claimed showed the diplomat admitting to breaking Russian laws.

Russia also said it had lodged a protest with Tokyo through diplomatic channels. However, there was no immediate response from Tokyo. Russia has designated Japan a “hostile” country, along with all European Union countries, the United States, the UK and Australia.

Moscow and Tokyo have traded sanctions and expulsions of diplomats since Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, lauched his invasion of Ukraine. In March, Japan froze the assets of 32 Russian and Belarusian officials and oligarchs.

The consul’s arrest appears to put an end to three decades of increasingly close ties between Russia and Japan, once enemies in the Second World War. Before the invasion, Putin had good relations with Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese Prime Minister.

The two countries have been pursuing lucrative business deals. Residents of Japan and Russia’s disputed Kuril Islands in the Pacific have enjoyed visa-free trips since 1991 – something that Russia scrapped unilaterally earlier this month in response to Tokyo joining western sanctions against Moscow.

Just two years ago, Russia and Japan were reportedly one step away from signing a landmark deal to settle a long-standing dispute over the Kuril Islands, stemming from the Second World War. The breakthrough was largely attributed to a strong personal relationship between Putin and the late Mr Abe, who even went to a traditional Japanese bathhouse together.

In a sign of how far the once warm ties between the two countries degraded, Russia’s foreign ministry on Monday morning announced a conference on “Crimes of a militarist Japan” at Russia’s undergraduate school for diplomats in Moscow this week.

The conference slated for Wednesday was expected to dwell on the crimes of Imperial Japan during the Second World War, with a hint to the present. One of the subjects under discussion was titled: “Has Tokyo learnt lessons from its militarist past?”

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