While there is much hype about the increasingly close relationship between Russia and China, media coverage of Russo-Japanese relations tend to focus almost exclusively on the lack of a post-WW2 peace treaty between the two and the future of the Kurile Islands, which Russia currently controls but both states claim.
This NYT article, however, shows that, on a practical level, ties between Russia and Japan are far closer than we might think – perhaps closer even that Russia’s relationship with China on many levels:
Since 2001, there have been annual Japanese port calls to Vladivostok, home to Russia’s Pacific Fleet; there have been no port calls by the Chinese Navy.
Relations between admirals have "developed well on a personal level," a Japanese diplomat in Vladivostok said. Russian Navy cooperation is so close that the Pacific Fleet is discussing a joint commemoration with Japan of the May 27-28, 1905, Battle of Tsushima, in which Russia’s fleet was all but destroyed in the Korea Strait and which secured Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese war.
Today, cooperation between the coast guards is equally close as both countries work to improve safety and reduce pollution and poaching in the Sea of Japan. Through October, a joint Russia-Japan effort to combat poaching netted the detention of 36 ships, compared with three during all of 2003, said Aleksandr Ivankov, deputy head of Russia’s border guards in the Vladivostok region.
Frankly, I think that Russia’s closeness to China is overhyped by scaremongers in the West who are looking for new bad guys, and by those in both Russia and China who want to talk up the importance of their respective nations on the world stage. Sure, the two countries do have interests in common, but they will never be anything more than allies of convenience because each sees the other as a strategic competitor and a potential military threat.
Japan, on the other hand, is neither a strategic nor a military competitor for Russia (although they fought a few interesting pre ww2 battles), which can only help the development of a close working relationship between the two. Japan also shares Russia’s concern about the growing strength of China. The issue of the Kuriles is, of course, an important one and neither Russia nor Japan will want to be seen to back down over them, but, when push comes to shove, they will not stand in the way of practical co-operation between the two
(Hat tip: American Future)